The last presidential debate in a nutshell


Courtesy of Anna Allred

Tommy Hunter and Anna Allred

The final presidential debate of this election season was held on Thursday, and almost all of America was watching. In an election year of unprecedented vitriol, the first debate marked a low point for both civility and content. However, measures taken by the Commission on Presidential Debates helped temper the madness, and in the second debate we got a surprisingly substantive discussion of policy. With election day just over a week away, people are deciding who they will vote for, and this was one of the last chances to hear the candidate’s cases. 63 million people watched the debate live on TV, and C-SPAN’s recording of it trended first on YouTube. The key points of the debate are summarized below so you can head to the polls informed.

Fighting Covid-19

Covid-19 has affected the American people greatly, so this section was one of the most important to people all over the country. The section started with the question, “How would you lead the country in the next stage of the coronavirus crisis?”Donald Trump started off by stating the problem was getting better and pointed out that he himself had coronavirus and got better very quickly. Trump also pointed out that America has prospered in the production of medical supplies – like masks, gowns, and ventilators. He ended his statement by saying the coronavirus would “go away” and America is “rounding the corner.” Biden started off by pointing out America still has a long way to go, and 200,000 more Americans are expected to die between now and the end of the year. He then moved on to say that Trump still had no plan for fixing America, and that he encourages everyone to wear masks and increase rapid testing. 

The section then shifted to when a vaccine would become available. Trump stated a vaccine would be created very soon, and would be distributed very quickly. Biden then said he would be willing to take, and encourage others, to take a vaccine if it was completely transparent and cleared by scientists. Biden then went on to say he did not think the pandemic would end anytime soon, and the president has no plan to help resolve it. Trump responded by pointing out Biden leadership during the H1N1 virus, in 2009, stating “It was a complete disaster.” Trump also pointed out that Biden was “way behind us” in reacting to the coronavirus, and called him xenophobic for banning travel to china.. Biden responded by stating Trump did “virtually nothing.” Biden also stated “no serious scientist in the world thinks [the pandemic] will be over soon.” Trump responded by saying the American people are learning to live with it, and we can’t continue to “lock ourselves in our basements.” Trump also stated the virus is not something to be afraid of and “99% of people recover.” Biden then stated, “Learning to live with it? We’re learning to die with it…  and [Trump]takes no responsibility.” Trump then said “It’s not my fault it came here. It’s China’s fault.” He then attacked China for not being transparent about the virus in January. Biden then stated Trump had no control over the pandemic and how “we are about to lose 200 thousand more people.” Trump also said one of the reasons the United States had so many cases was because of how many tests were given. Biden subsequently stated that Trump was not being transparent on how he handled the virus in January.

“Learning to live with it? We’re learning to die with it… 

National Security

This section started with Biden saying that any country involved in the election would “pay”; he called out Russia, Iran, and China. He went on to call Trump out for being non transparent about the activities in Russia and Afghanistan, and he believed that he owes the American people an explanation. Trump attacked Biden on his relationship with the Mayor of Moscow’s wife. He also said that the Biden family received 3.5 million dollars from her, and that he should explain himself to the American people. Trump also stated that Russia and Iran don’t want him to win, and “nobody has been tougher on Russia” then himself. Biden responded by saying he has never taken money from a foreign country in his life, and Donald Trump has done a lot of personal business in China. He continued by pointing out Trump’s taxes and asked, “What are you hiding?” Trump defended himself by saying his taxes were under audit, and he prepaid “tens of millions of dollars.” Biden attacked Trump by suggesting he was “gaming the system.” Trump defended himself by saying investigators found no collision and questioned Biden’s record regarding foreign relationships. Biden defended himself and his son and stated that anything that happened overseas was ultimately “ethical.” Trump countered Biden and said that the only reason his son had a job was because of his position as vice president. 

When asked what he would do regarding China, Biden stated, “I would make them play by international rules.” He then attacked Trump on his relationships with international rulers like Kim Jung Un and Putin. Trump defended his relationship with Kim Jung Un by saying, “we have a different type of relationship,” and also stated that North Korea was America’s biggest threat at the beginning of his term as president. Biden again called out Trump for his relationship with Kim Jung Un and said he would “control” North Korea. Trump then stated that Obama – and Biden – tried to meet with Kim Jung Un, but Jung Un “wouldn’t do it.” and “[Jung Un] didn’t like them.” Biden responded by stating the reason Jung Un did not like them was that Obama wanted to talk about denuclearization. Trump then repeated how  North Korea was the most significant threat at the beginning of his presidency, and he “worked things out.”

Race in America

 This section started with Biden; he stated, “there is institutional racism in America.” He then went on to attack Trump for “moving the needle” away from inclusion and towards exclusion. Trump responded by saying Biden was “very harmful to the African-American community.” Trump also stated that Biden called African Americans “super-predators.” Trump said, “nobody has done more for the African-American community than me with the exception of Abraham Lincoln.” Trump also talked about what he has done for crime reform and called out the Obama administration for not doing anything. Biden defended his work on crime reform and stated, “Trump was working on our law.” Biden also stated, “Nobody should be going to jail because they have a drug problem. They should be going to rehabilitation.” Trump responded by saying, “why didn’t you do it 4 years ago?” and “you guys did nothing… I ran because of you. If I thought you had done a good job I wouldn’t have run.” Biden responded by asking the American people to “look at our characters… you know who he is. You know who I am.” 


When asked what he thought about the Black Lives Matter movement, Trump responded by saying, “The first time I heard of Black Lives Matter, they were chanting ‘Pigs in a blanket…’ pigs, talking about our police. Pigs in a blanket fry em like bacon’ and I thought that’s a horrible thing.” He said he felt he had a great relationship with all people, and he is “the least racist person” in the room. Biden responded by calling Trump, “the most racist president in modern history.” Trump responded by attacking Biden’s history with the crime bill: “and how he put millions of tens of thousands of men, black men mostly, in jail.” Biden then called the crime bill a “mistake,” and he thought that nobody should go to jail for a drug problem; they should get “treatment.” Trump responded by asking Biden why he didn’t get it done when he had the chance. Biden defended himself by saying he released “38,000 prisoners” during his time as vice president.

American Families

The fourth section of the debate focused on topics of immediate concern for many American families during the coronavirus pandemic: healthcare and the economy.  More than 20 million people get health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, which is appearing before the Supreme Court just one week after the election. Both candidates were asked what they would do if it’s overturned. President Trump began by touting his elimination of the individual mandate, which made people pay a fee if they could afford health insurance but didn’t buy it, and is the basis for the case against the ACA. Biden said that if it were overturned, he would re-pass Obamacare, this time with a public option. His plan, dubbed “Bidencare”, would automatically enroll people who qualify for Medicaid. President Trump called this socialized medicine, but Biden maintained that his plan would not eliminate private insurance, and that people wouldn’t have to change their health insurance if they didn’t want to. 

The conversation turned to the economy, specifically the recent lack of a coronavirus relief bill. When asked why they hadn’t corralled their parties into passing the current package, which has seen months of delays, both candidates accused the other side of being unwilling to help. Biden said that raising the minimum wage would boost the economy in the long run, despite the toll coronavirus has exacted on business. He added that small businesses would likely need a bailout and that he would pass a relief package to help them. Trump, who has stated that he would consider raising the minimum wage to Biden’s proposed $15 as a state option, argued that a minimum wage hike now would force small businesses to lay off employees or go bankrupt.

The section’s final topic was immigration, specifically children detained at the border who haven’t been reunited with their parents. While Trump claimed that the zero-tolerance policy that left children separated from their parents and in cages, which has since been revoked, was a relic of the Obama-Biden administration. Biden delivered a heartfelt rebuke: “it violates every notion of who we are as a nation.” Biden later owned up to the Obama administration’s failure to deliver meaningful immigration reform, but declared that things would change when he’s president, starting with reinforced protection for Dreamers.  

Climate Change

The candidates also clashed over the Paris Climate Accord and fracking. President Trump, who withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord over concern that it placed too much economic burden on the US, fielded accusations of a dangerous miscalculation from Biden. Biden said he would reenter the Accord to ensure that other countries, particularly China, abide by their agreements while the world works against climate change, which he says is an “existential threat.” 

Biden’s stance on fracking is less clear; it changed several times throughout the democratic primaries when Biden made several conflicting remarks that implied everything from a complete elimination to a ban on “new fracking”, although the president doesn’t have the authority to do either of those things without Congress. However, Biden’s written climate plan has always allowed fracking, and that seems to be the position Biden has honed in on. This was unsurprising, given that fracking is a critical industry in several swing states. What was absolutely stunning was Biden’s statement about the oil industry. President Trump asked him if he would  “close down the oil industry” and Biden said, “I would transition from the oil industry, yes.” Trump responded, “Oh, that’s a big statement.” He was right. Oil is an even bigger industry than fracking, and in swing states like Texas, that line could make the difference.


In his closing statement, Trump focused primarily on the dangers of a Biden presidency, claiming that a Biden win would result in “a depression the likes of which you’ve never seen.”  Biden, conversely, didn’t mention Trump’s name, instead restating his biggest policy points and declaring that “we have enormous opportunities to make things better.” This was a bit unexpected; Biden’s go-to closer has been a rousing couple of sentences on the perils of four more years under Trump. Less than two weeks out from the election, Biden went for a more hopeful, forward-looking tone.


As of October 24th, more than 57 million people had already voted. That number will only increase as election day draws closer, and Thursday’s debate gave the American people a much better idea of what each candidate stands for, and was overall much more productive than the first debate. This debate was one of the most watched in history, and will affect the outcome of the election greatly.