With 11 days to go until election day, the two presidential candidates met for the second and final time on the debate stage last night in Nashville. With memories of the rancorous and unruly first presidential debate still fresh, Thursday night's 90 minute head-to-head between Donald Trump and Joe Biden was a very different affair. Donald Trump was restrained, even subdued at times, having evidently listened to advice to tone down his combative style.
The threat of the mute button evidently had its intended effect.
There was more room for discussion on policy – from the pandemic response, to foreign policy, to immigration.
But there were also flashes of conflict. “I am the least racist person in this room,” declared Trump during a discussion on race relations in America. Biden responded: “He’s one of the racist presidents in American history … he pours fuel on every racist fire, every one,” noting his description of Mexicans as rapists when he announced his presidential run, and his introduction of a Muslim travel ban.
Trump also called Biden a “criminal,” referring to recent unsubstantiated stories about an alleged email sent by Biden’s son Hunter that were found on a laptop in Delaware. While Biden rejected the accusation, Trump’s characterisation of his opponent had echoes of his “crooked Hillary” dog-whistle at the end of the 2016 campaign – a tactic that worked to an extent four years ago, and may resonate with Trump supporters.
As the debate drew to a close after almost an hour and a half, Biden glanced at his watch – a flashback to the famous move by George HW Bush in his debate with Bill Clinton in 1992 – and likely to be seized upon by right-wing media in the coming days as proof that Biden lacks the stamina to run for president.
The most significant question, however, is whether either candidate succeeded in changing any minds before election day. It seems unlikely. Polls suggest that there are fewer undecided voters in this election compared to 2016 and most voters have already made up their minds about the candidates. Further, new figures out yesterday showed that a staggering 47 million people have already cast their vote – more than a third of the total voting electorate in 2016.
If Trump left his usual grievance against the mainstream media at the door when he arrived at Belmont University for the debate, earlier in the day he followed through on his threat to post an interview conducted by TV show 60 minutes due to air on Sunday. While Trump claimed it showed "bias, hatred and rudeness" on behalf of interviewee Lesley Stahl, in fact the 38-minute clip showed Stahl calmly and systematically questioning the president as he grows increasingly irritated before ending the interview. The one-to-one interview also saw Trump admitting that he hoped the Supreme Court would rule against Obamacare – an argument that Democrats have been trying to make for weeks in a bid to paint Trump as a threat to the healthcare of millions of Americans.
Quote of the Day
"I'm going to be an American president. I don't see red states and blue states. What I see is American – United States," Democratic candidate Joe Biden at Thursday night's presidential debate in Belmont University, Nashville.
On the campaign trail today
In an indication of the importance of Florida in this election, Trump will leave Washington at lunchtime for two campaign events in the state today, including a rally at the Villages, America’s largest retirement community. It takes place amid signs that Trump’s support among seniors is slipping.
Mike Pence will be campaigning in Florida on Saturday, while Barack Obama is also scheduled to deliver a speech in Miami following his first campaign event for Joe Biden on Wednesday night in Philadelphia.
Today, the vice president will meet with supporters in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Joe Biden will deliver remarks on his plans to tackle the Covid pandemic from Delaware, while his running-mate Kamala Harris will visit Atlanta, the largest urban centre in Georgia. Trump comfortably won the southern state in 2016, but Democrats see an opening here in November.
Irish Times writers give their quick-take on last night's debate,
I'm reporting in today's Irish Times from South Carolina, where Republican senator Lindsey Graham is in the fight of his political lifeas he faces a formidable challenge from 44-year-old Jaime Harrison, a rising African-American star of the Democratic party.
I speak to foreign editor Chris Dooley for this week's Irish Times "World View" podcast – a 25 minute update on what's happening on the campaign trail ahead of the November 3rd election. You can find it on I-Tunes or listen here.
Amy Coney Barrett moved a step closer to joining the Supreme Court after the senate judiciary committee endorsed her yesterday.
Politico reports that Bernie Sanders is eyeing a position in a Biden administration and has expressed an interest becoming Labor Secretary if Biden wins in November. How Biden reaches out to the progressive wing of his party will be a key theme to watch if Biden is victorious in November.