After the torturous first debate, and the cancellation of the second head-to-head after the US president contracted coronavirus, Donald Trump and Joe Biden locked horns for the final time before America goes to the polls.
And it wasn’t pretty.
Trump initially adopted a more restrained tone than he did during their first encounter in September, which was marked by his constant interruptions. But it didn’t take long for the lies and incoherence to begin.
While it’s unlikely few in a deeply divided country will agree who “won” – whatever that means – there were some stand-out moments likely to fuel conversations at least in the morning after.
“I am the least racist person in this room.”
Biden accused Trump of being “one of the most racist presidents” in history.
“He pours fuel on every single racist fire,” Biden said. “This guy has a dog whistle as big as a foghorn.”
Trump responded by criticising Biden’s authorship of a 1994 crime bill that increased incarceration of minorities while asserting that he had done more for Black Americans than any president with the “possible” exception of Abraham Lincoln in the 1860s.
Trump later added: “As far as my relationships with all people, I think I have great relationships with all people. I am the least racist person in this room.”
He made the statement to Kristen Welker, the first Black woman to moderate a presidential debate since 1992, as Trump attempted to backpedal on his rhetoric toward Black Americans.
The most memorable part of the debate for me: President Trump said "I'm the least racist person in this room."
Kristen Welker, a black woman, was in the room.#PresidentialDebate2020 #Debates2020 pic.twitter.com/xf8Qo4QEpO
— Eric Cox (@EricCoxTV) October 23, 2020
Did Trump seriously claim he is the “least racist person in the room” to the BLACK FEMALE MODERATOR?!#Debates2020
— Steph Frosch (@ElloSteph) October 23, 2020
Migrant children taken from their parents are “so well taken care of”.
In another jaw-dropping moment, Biden attacked Trump over his administration’s unpopular policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the US-Mexico border.
His administration started and carried out a policy that took more than 4,000 children from their parents, at least 545 of whom are still split apart years later. But at Thursday’s debate, the president insisted that he did nothing wrong at all ― blaming his Democratic predecessors and even insisting the kids are doing fine.
“They are so well taken care of,” Trump said of the children taken from their parents by his administration. “They’re in facilities that were so clean.”
i gotta say “they were so well taken care of” took my breath away.
— b-boy boooo-eebaisse (@jbouie) October 23, 2020
Trump says the kids his administration separated from their parents, and now has failed to reunite with their parents, are being "so well taken care of." Which I'm sure is a great comfort to the kids WHO ARE NOT WITH THEIR PARENTS.
— Binyamin Appelbaum (@BCAppelbaum) October 23, 2020
Splitting up families was intentional and calculated, according to multiple reports.
Thanks to mass public outrage and a court order, Trump was forced to stop his family separation policy. Most families were reunited, but the American Civil Liberties Union, which was part of the lawsuit against the government that stopped the policy, said this week that at least 545 kids are still away from their parents.
“Their kids were ripped from their arms and separated,” Biden said during the debate. “And now they cannot find over 500 sets of those parents and those kids are alone. Nowhere to go. Nowhere to go. It’s criminal.”
A Covid-19 vaccine is “going to be announced within weeks”.
Trump opened the debate by falsely claiming a vaccine for Covid-19 was potentially “weeks” away. Most experts, including his administration officials, have said a vaccine is unlikely to be widely available until mid-2021.
So...there were at least three egregiously false claims in Trump's first answer:
- 2.2 million deaths "expected"
- We're rounding the turn, it's going away
- Vaccine "ready"
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) October 23, 2020
As he’s done before, Trump attempted to paint his administration’s botched Covid-19 response as a success by pointing to one of the worst possible death projections — an early estimate by British researchers that found there could be as many as 2.2 million fatalities in the US if no containment measures were taken.
“This is a worldwide problem, but I’ve been congratulated by the heads of many countries on what we’ve been able to do,” Trump said, without disclosing a single specific world leader. “It will go away, and as I say, we’re rounding the turn, we’re rounding the corner. It’s going away.”
“There’s a reason why he’s bringing up all this malarkey”.
Trump repeated his accusations that Biden and his son Hunter engaged in unethical practices in China and Ukraine. No evidence has been verified to support the allegations, and Biden called them false and discreditted.
“All of the emails, the emails, horrible emails of the kind of money that you were raking in, you and your family,” Trump said to his Democratic opponent on the debate stage. “I think you owe an explanation to the American people.”
The vague reference to “emails” may not make sense to people who do not consume large amounts of conservative media: Trump was elevating to the national stage a storyline that is full of holes and may be the product of a foreign disinformation campaign.
— HuffPost (@HuffPost) October 23, 2020
Trump’s effort to uncover dirt on Hunter Biden’s Ukraine business ties led to the president’s impeachment. The president and his children have been accused of conflicts of interest of their own since he entered the White House in 2017, most involving the family’s international real estate and hotel businesses.
Biden defended his family and said unequivocally that he had never made “a single penny” from a foreign country, before pivoting to accuse Trump of trying to distract Americans.
“There’s a reason why he’s bringing up all this malarkey,” Biden said, looking directly into the camera. “It’s not about his family and my family. It’s about your family, and your family’s hurting badly.”
“Little, tiny, small windows”.
There were moments that were just plain weird.
Biden mistakenly referred to the far-right group the Proud Boys as the “Poor Boys” for the second consecutive presidential debate.
“He says about the poor boys, last time we were on stage here, he said, ’I told them to stand down and stand ready,” Biden said, referring to Trump’s remarks on the group last month.
They're just the Poor Boys, they need no sympathy
— John Hendrickson (@JohnGHendy) October 23, 2020
Hitler came up too.
In the national security portion of the debate, the former vice president said that the president legitimised North Korea by meeting with Kim Jong-un.
The Democrat pointed out that the North Koreans now have a much more enhanced missile capability able to reach US territory with greater ease.
Trump said: “Having a good relationship with leaders of other countries is a good thing.”
To which Biden responded: “We had a good relationship with Hitler before he, in fact, invaded the rest of Europe. Come on.”
Oh, so did “little, tiny, small windows”.
The left loves tiny little windows, it’s right there in The Communist Manifesto after public education.
— Zach Carter (@zachdcarter) October 23, 2020
He’s talking about tiny windows again. Where does he get this bullshit?
— Angry Staffer (@AngrierWHStaff) October 23, 2020
Biden described climate change as an “existential threat” requiring an all-out government response, and Trump’s response was ... bizarre.
At one stage he accused Biden of trying to mandate that buildings be constructed with “little, tiny, small windows” and that wind energy “kills all the birds.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.