There were three people on stage for the final presidential debate of 2020 and one of them was a clear winner: It was Kristen Welker, the debate moderator. The White House correspondent and “Weekend Today” co-anchor was able to restrain interruptions, ask the important questions and keep the debate moving forward.
If Welker won with her goal-oriented agenda, the debate then boiled down to a contest between contenders with President Trump mostly muted but not muzzled. The president came out second best to Biden, losing out on most issues with defensive responses (“it was China’s fault”), looks-will-kill glares, frantic accordion hands, and obvious lies.
Biden won over the audience with his very first response commenting on the pandemic and the 200,000 Americans dead from coronavirus. The former vice president said, “Anyone taking no responsibility, not taking control, cannot remain president of the United States.”
Trump insisted on reverting to his tired themes of “it will all go away” and “we have a vaccine that’s coming in weeks.” The president blustered about re-opening the schools and businesses. He ranted that if it wasn’t done his way “we’re not going to have a country.”
Some random take-aways:
Who’s running? Trump tried to recast the race, running hard against other opponents including Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, Dr. Anthony Fauci and someone he called “Moller,” although he probably meant Special Counsel Robert Mueller who supervised the Trump-Russia investigation.
Woman problem: The president reserved his most potent venom for women. He continues to take every opportunity to target Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Hillary Clinton. But he also made hostile references to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Response to racism: This may have been Trump’s weakest moment. While Biden was able to articulate the need to deal with our institutional racism, Trump could only fall back on his absurd claim that he has “done more for Black Americans than any president since Abraham Lincoln.”
Main Street: Where Biden showed up best was when he talked about American families and their concern over the possible overturn of Obamacare with 20-million Americans losing health care. Trump could only respond with promises of “beautiful health care plan” and dark warnings about “socialized medicine.”
This debate, though far more civilized and informative than the first debate, probably didn’t change many votes. Many have already voted and those remaining likely have already settled on a candidate. On Trump’s behalf one could only say he didn’t show up as deranged as he did during the first debate. And for Biden one must admire his skill at ducking Trump’s attempts to drag his Hunter Biden into the debate. The former veep was the only one who managed a final smile.