Debate overview: Four key takeaways from the last Trump v Biden showdown

From left, former vice president Joe Biden and President Donald Trump traded blows about each other’s finances at the 2020 presidential debate. (Getty Images)
From left, former vice president Joe Biden and President Donald Trump traded blows about each other’s finances at the 2020 presidential debate. (Getty Images)

Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden traded blows about the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, foreign policy, and even each other’s personal business interests at the second and final debate on Thursday in Nashville.

Although the rhetoric from the candidates was as heated as ever, both were allowed to deliver their answers and rebuttals with little interruption from the other.

Just 12 days remain until Election Day on 3 November.

Here are four key takeaways from the second presidential debate.

1. Biden and Trump offer diametrically opposed visions on coronavirus

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Trump has continually tried to strike notes of optimism, at times obscuring facts about Covid-19 — including the disease’s deadliness — to, in his words, not “alarm” Americans.

“We’re learning to live with [the virus],” Mr Trump said on Thursday, projecting that the federal government would approve a vaccine by the end of the year.

“We can't lock ourselves up in a basement like Joe does,” the president said, repeating his taunt of the vice president for running an unconventional campaign to comply with social distancing guidelines.

“We can't close up our nation or you're not going to have a nation,” Mr Trump said.

While the president has emphasised the health of the economy, Mr Biden has tailored his messaging and coronavirus strategy on saving as many American lives as possible, even if that means some economic losses in the short term.

Mr Biden has said he would urge governors to lock down their economies again if Covid-19 cases and deaths surge this fall and winter to record highs like they did last spring.

The former vice president hit Mr Trump with several one-liners about his responsibility for the US death toll reaching over 222,000 this week.

“Anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States,” Mr Biden said.

2. Shallow on policy, deep on family conspiracy

Mr Biden was forced to directly confront whether his son Hunter acted improperly by sitting on the board of Ukrainian energy titan Burisma — which before his arrival at the company had been under investigation for corruption — while his dad was vice president.

“Nothing was unethical,” Mr Biden said of his son’s business dealings. “Not one single, solitary thing was out of line. Not a single thing.”

For a 25 to 30 minute stretch during the front half of the debate, Mr Trump repeatedly dredged up unsubstantiated theories that Mr Biden and his family corruptly cashed in on his tenure as vice president.

One such theory is that Hunter Biden made $3.5m in a business deal with the former mayor of Moscow’s wife involving illegal construction in the Russian capital city.

Mr Trump’s references to such theories were often difficult to follow, full of vague insinuations of corruption and self-dealing on the part of the Bidens.

“I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life,” Mr Biden said amid criticism from the president.

Mr Biden, who did not hesitate to mention that Mr Trump paid more in federal taxes to China than to the US government in previous years, admonished the president for deflecting their foreign policy debate back onto questions of familial corruption.

“There's a reason he's bringing up all this malarkey. He doesn't want to talk about substantive issues,” Mr Biden said. “It’s not about his family and my family. It’s about your family,” he said, looking at the cameras.

3. Trump doubles down on buddy-buddy relationship with Kim Jong-un

Mr Trump defended his decision to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at multiple bilateral summits over the last three and a half years even though the meetings did not produce any actionable agreements for North Korea to reduce its nuclear capabilities.

“We have a very good relationship, and there is no war,” Mr Trump said of his dalliance with Mr Kim, which he has described as involving “beautiful love letters” between the two leaders.

“Having a good relationship with leaders of other countries is a good thing,” Mr Trump argued.

North Korea, with whom the US has never signed a peace treaty since the 1953 armistice agreement, has been criticised by the US and its western allies for its pattern of human rights abuses, including jailing political dissidents in brutal concentration camps.

Mr Biden, meanwhile, said the president’s “good buddy,” referring to Mr Kim, is a “thug". He added: "We had a good relationship with Hitler before he, in fact, invaded the rest of Europe. Come on."

The former vice president said he would only agree to meet with the North Korean leader if the US secured a verifiable promise that the hermit nation would reduce its nuclear capacity and long-range missile arsenal.

“The Korean Peninsula should be a nuclear free zone,” Mr Biden said.

4. Trump, as president, continues pitching himself as swashbuckling outsider

Mr Trump, who has held the highest office in the land for more than three and a half years, wound back the clock to his outsider 2016 campaign to rail against the Washington, DC, political establishment at Thursday’s debate.

"It's all talk [and] no action with these politicians… You're all talk and no action, Joe,” Mr Trump said, taunting Mr Biden for spending 47 years in public life — and eight years as vice president in the West Wing — without passing his policy agenda.

“You had eight years. Why didn’t you get it done?” the president asked.

“We had a Republican Congress. That’s the answer,” Mr Biden responded.

Democrats controlled the White House, House, and Senate in the first two years of Barack Obama’s presidency, when the administration signed Obamacare into law and provided emergency bailouts to the US automobile industry during the Great Recession.

Republicans took back the House in the 2010 midterm elections, a majority they enjoyed for the remainder of Mr Obama’s tenure.

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