After-Action Report Part 2: The Final Presidential Debate

Who said what? Who landed the best punches?


The debate started with the topic on most voters’ minds. Trump largely defended his response, saying experts predicted 2 million American deaths in a worst-case scenario. In addition, the President touted the coming vaccine, though erroneously said it was ready, then modifying his statement shortly after. Trump was asked about his recent comments about Dr. Fauci, responding that early on in the pandemic, Fauci advised Americans not to wear masks, a statement Fauci doesn’t dispute or regret.

  • Key Trump Quote: “I take full responsibility. It’s not my fault that it came here. It’s China’s fault. And you know what? It’s not Joe’s fault that it came here either. It’s China’s fault.”

Biden’s answers focused on the Administration’s early moves, arguing the President knew early on how bad it would be but wouldn’t be honest with the American people, and accused Trump of xenophobia, an accusation receiving fact-checking on both sides. Biden hit Trump on not emphasizing the importance of wearing masks to the public, saying it could save 100,000 lives. Biden pledged to “invest in rapid testing” and create national standards on reopening schools and businesses.

  • Key Biden Quote: “220,000 Americans dead. You hear nothing else I say tonight, hear this. Anyone who is responsible for not taking control. In fact, not saying I take no responsibility initially. Anyone is responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America.”

Climate Change and Energy

President Trump defended pulling the United States out of the Paris Climate Accords, saying it let other nations like China and Russia off the hook while saddling the United States with the agreement’s restrictions immediately. Trump said the deregulatory agenda was needed because regulations were going to cause American job loss. He also tied Biden to the Green New Deal, saying it would cost $100 trillion over its lifetime.

  • Key Trump Quote: “When they put us in there [Paris Accords], they did us a great disservice, they were going to take away our businesses. I will not sacrifice tens of millions of jobs, thousands and thousands of companies because of the Paris Accord, it was so unfair.”

Biden used the time to tout a few specifics of his climate change plan, saying his plan will “create millions of new good-paying jobs, that there will investments in electric car charging stations on the federal interstate highway system, funding to retrofit 6 million buildings in America to make them more energy efficient. Biden was also pressed by Trump on his comments during the course of the campaign on fracking and the American energy industry. CNN fact-checked his statement that he never said he opposed fracking.

  • Key Biden Quote: “Climate change, global warming is an existential threat to humanity. We have a moral obligation to deal with it. And we’re told by all the leading scientists in the world we don’t have much time, we’re going to pass the point of no return within the next 8 to 10 years.”

National Security

The topic started off on the issue of election interference, with Biden saying nations who attempt to interfere with American elections will face consequences. The former Vice President brought up Rudy Giuliani, the President’s personal attorney, saying he is being used as a pawn of Russia in reference to the “Hunter Biden laptop” story, a claim disputed by the Director of National Intelligence and the Federal Bureau of Investigations. Trump directly accused Biden of benefiting financially from his son’s business dealings, which Biden firmly denied. Biden used the opportunity to discuss the President’s foreign holdings and business interests, referencing a business bank account in China President Trump acknowledged and said it had been closed before he ran for president. rated that statement false.

In response to questions on how to deal with China on trade, Biden would make China abide by international trade rules and be tougher on intellectual property protection for American companies. Biden also claimed the trade deficit with China increased during President Trump’s term, which was fact-checked to be incorrect. Biden also hit Trump on North Korea, saying he was legitimizing “thugs”, and he would force China to the table to create a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.

  • Key Biden Quote: “He doesn’t want to talk about the substantive issues. It’s not about his family and my family. It’s about your family, and your family’s hurting badly. If you’re a middle-class family, you’re getting hurt badly right now.”

Trump’s response was to say the engagement with North Korea has not led to a new conflict, despite warnings from President Obama. With respect to the trade relationship with China, Trump argued the Chinese are paying $28 billion in tariffs, a claim widely disputed, and that he levied a 25% penalty on Chinese steel, “because they were killing our steel industry.” Trump also defended his efforts on Russia, saying they’re meddling in the election because of how tough the Trump Administration has been on them. CNN fact-checked this statement, saying Russia’s meddling is in Trump’s favor.

  • Key Trump Quote: “You know what? North Korea, we’re not in a war. We have a good relationship. People don’t understand. Having a good relationship with leaders of other countries is a good thing.”

Debate Punches: Hits and Misses

HIT: Trump pressed Biden on energy and fracking, forcing him to contradict his remarks during the primary and qualify his debate statement post-debate.

MISS: Trump repeatedly brought up the former Vice President’s son, Hunter, and his international business. While the moderator did question Biden on it, Trump wasn’t able to deliver the soundbite his campaign was hoping for.

HIT: “Who built the cages?” – Trump was vocal in the conversation on illegal immigration. While Biden brought up the recent reports of more than 500 children currently separated from their families, Trump was able to make a clear argument that many of the immigration policies in question began under the Obama Administration.

MISS: “We made a mistake. It took too long to get it right.” – Biden admitted shortcomings in the Obama Administration’s handling of immigration. It provided an opening, possibly to be used repeatedly in these last few days of the election, for Trump to argue that Biden has had the opportunity to do things right and did not.

HIT: “I don’t see red states and blue states. What I see is America, the United States.” Biden said this when talking about the national response to the coronavirus pandemic. It was a concise argument for unity, a point Biden has made frequently in the last few days.

MISS: “Not one single person with private insurance would lose their insurance under my plan, nor did they under Obamacare. They did not lose their insurance unless they chose they wanted to go to something else.” This was Politifact’s 2013 Lie of the Year.

HIT: Kristen Welker – She was nearly universally praised for reining in both candidates and keep the debate at a cooler temperature than the first debate, leading the first debate moderator to be “jealous” of Welker.

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© Dallas Gerber, 2020