4 Takeaways From The Final Presidential Debate

Donald Trump keeps hoping Joe Biden is more left-wing than he is.

President Donald Trump tried to attack Democratic rival Joe Biden over and over again for controversial policy positions that Biden does not hold during the second and final presidential debate on Thursday night. He claimed, inaccurately, that Biden wants to impose a national lockdown to control COVID-19, ban fracking and eliminate private health insurance.

It’s a series of talking points that Trump and his surrogates have tried to use against Biden before to little effect. 

In the debate in Nashville, though, Biden was particularly pithy as he dispensed with Trump’s efforts to turn him into a left-wing icon. 

“This guy ― he thinks he’s running against somebody else,” said former Vice President Biden, who has spent decades burnishing a reputation as a political moderate. “He’s running against Joe Biden.” 

“I beat all those other people because I disagreed with them,” Biden added, referring to his Democratic primary victory over more progressive rivals.

Trump fared far better in his final appearance with Biden than in the two candidates’ first debate, which was a disaster marked by Trump’s constant interruptions. 

Over the course of more than 90 minutes on stage with Biden, Trump repeatedly lied about and distorted both his and Biden’s records, but he did so in a relatively modulated voice. The debate moderator, NBC News’ Kristen Welker, largely succeeded in preventing Trump from speaking out of turn, thanks in part to rules that allowed the microphones to be muted. Trump even managed to make some legitimate criticisms of Biden’s record on immigration reform and criminal justice policy.

But Trump, who is down in the polls with less than two weeks until Election Day, needed a home run ― and he didn’t get it. Biden held his own. And Trump still lacks answers about his administration’s handling of the coronavirus, how he would achieve universal coverage in the absence of the Affordable Care Act and how he could ensure that gains in the stock market benefit ordinary people. 

Here are three more takeaways from Thursday’s debate:

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden rejected President Donald Trump's assertions that he has adopted the most far-reach
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden rejected President Donald Trump's assertions that he has adopted the most far-reaching proposals of his party's left wing.

Trump’s Attempt To Capitalize On Hunter Biden’s Baggage Backfired

Going into the debate, conservative news outlets reported on emails allegedly belonging to Biden’s son Hunter that show the young man discussing business proposals for shady companies in Ukraine and China. Joe Biden’s critics have seized on some of the language in those communications to argue that Hunter cut his father in on the money he was making from his work for companies that were doing business with the Obama administration while Biden was serving as vice president.

But Trump, perhaps recognizing that there is no evidence that Biden profited from his son’s business ventures, stepped carefully when broaching the matter.

“They even have a statement that ‘we have to give 10% to the big man,’” Trump said, referring to words in unverified emails that conservatives claim refer to Biden. “You’re the ‘big man,’ I think. I don’t know ― maybe not ― but you’re the ‘big man.’”

Biden delivered an impassioned denial of any suggestion that he had profited from ties to foreign companies or governments. “I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life,” he said.

Biden then pivoted to attacking Trump for having a bank account in China, where tax records obtained by The New York Times show he has paid more in taxes than in the United States. The move shifted the conversation to uncomfortable terrain for Trump as Biden pressed him to prove that he has no compromising financial ties in foreign nations by releasing his tax returns.

“I’m going to release them as soon as we can,” Trump said, once again claiming, as he did in the 2016 campaign, that an audit of the returns prevented him from disclosing the records.

“He’s been saying this for four years,” Biden responded. “Show us. Just show us. Stop playing around.”

President Donald Trump adopted a less aggressive posture in his second and final 2020 presidential debate. But he did not pro
President Donald Trump adopted a less aggressive posture in his second and final 2020 presidential debate. But he did not produce any game-changing moments.

Trump Still Has No Answers On Health Care

When Welker asked Trump to explain his contingency plan for insuring Americans who could lose their health care coverage if the Supreme Court sides with the Trump administration in its effort to overturn the Affordable Care Act, Trump had no real answers.

Instead, Trump once again played up his success in undoing one of the law’s less popular features: the individual mandate requiring all Americans to buy health insurance or pay a penalty. 

“It no longer is Obamacare because, without the individual mandate, it’s much different,” Trump said.

The rules protecting people with “preexisting conditions will always stay,” he added.

In fact, the individual mandate was not that central a feature of the law.

Despite Trump’s best efforts, more fundamental components of the law persist, including new rules requiring insurance companies to cover people with preexisting medical conditions and charge them the same rates as everyone else; a vastly expanded Medicaid program for Americans living at or near the federal poverty level; and the creation of an insurance marketplace where low- and moderate-income individuals can buy insurance at subsidized rates.

In 2017, Trump tried to repeal the ACA legislatively and replace it with a bill that deregulated insurance rules and eliminated federal funding for the ACA’s expanded coverage. Those provisions are likewise endangered by the Trump administration’s lawsuit before the Supreme Court.

To replace these broadly popular elements of Obamacare, Trump again promised something vague that he has had four years to elaborate on but has never done: “a brand new, beautiful health care.”

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) congratulates Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), left, and Mike Lee (Utah) on passage of the F
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) congratulates Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), left, and Mike Lee (Utah) on passage of the First Step Act.

Trump Had A Point About Biden’s Record On Immigration And Criminal Justice Reform

Biden has promised that passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants would be a priority during his first 100 days in office. He is also planning to reform the criminal justice system to lessen incarceration, particularly in the Black and Latino communities for whom it is disproportionately onerous. 

Both Welker and Trump pressed Biden on why, if immigration reform is so important to him, he and then-President Barack Obama had not succeeded in passing it.  

“It took too long to get it right,” Biden conceded. “I’ll be president of the United States ― not vice president of the United States.”

Later, Trump boasted about his passage of the First Step Act, a bipartisan bill that expands job training in prisons and gives judges greater discretion in sentencing. He attacked Biden for his passage of the 1994 crime bill, which progressive critics blame for an explosion in prison and jail populations. 

“He’s been in government 47 years,” Trump said. “He never did a thing ― except in 1994, when he did such harm to the Black community.”

Biden noted that Obama signed a law reducing the disparity in punishments for possession of powder cocaine and crack, which had resulted in Black Americans facing harsher penalties for possession and trafficking of a similar drug in a different form. 

He also reminded viewers of how Trump has used his platform to foment racist bloodlust against people of color, including the wrongfully accused Central Park Five.

But when Trump pressed Biden on why he and Obama had not passed some of the additional reforms he was now seeking to implement as president, Biden had a sheepish response.

“We had a Republican Congress,” he said. (In fact, in Obama’s first two years, when criminal justice reform was not a national priority on the level that it is now, Democrats controlled Congress.)

“You’ve got to talk them into it, Joe,” Trump said. “Like I did with criminal justice reform ― I had to talk Democrats into it.”

We want to know what you’re hearing on the ground from the candidates. If you get any interesting ― or suspicious! ― campaign mailers, robocalls or hear anything else you think we should know about, email us at scoops@huffpost.com.

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