President Trump and Joe Biden shared a debate stage for the second and final time Thursday night—and it was a far more restrained affair than their first meeting, helped by the introduction of a mute button and widely praised moderating from NBC's Kristen Welker. With far fewer interruptions and a lot less crosstalk, the candidates made their opposing cases on issues including the pandemic, health care, and corruption. Analysts say that while both candidates landed some clear hits, the debate didn't deliver the game-changing moment Trump needed. Some takeaways:
- Sharp contrasts. While the tone of the Nashville debate "was more sedate, the conflict in matters of substance and vision could not have been more dramatic," Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin write at the New York Times. The contrast was most evident in the candidate's remarks on the pandemic they write, with Trump "promising, in defiance of evidence, that the disease was 'going away,'" while Biden "called for much more aggressive federal action for the 'dark winter' ahead."
- A changed tone from Trump. Trump cleared a low bar by improving his tone. The president was on his "best behavior" Thursday night and while his strategy seemed to be allowing Biden lots of speaking time in the hope the Democrat would slip up, "that didn’t really happen," Niall Stanage and Jonathan Easley write at the Hill. "While there were moments where Biden appeared shaky, there were also instances in which he met the moment, such as with his emotional response to the Trump administration’s policy of separating parents from their children at the border," they write. "But overall, the president’s calmer demeanor likely helped him to a degree."
- Not a disaster for Biden. The former vice president also cleared a low bar by not making any gaffes likely to jeopardize his lead in the polls, according to Mark Barabak and Melanie Mason at the Los Angeles Times. The Democrat "didn’t suffer a brain freeze or open his mouth and spray buckshot into his feet. Indeed, he more than acquitted himself," they write. "Crisp speaking, cogent argument, and linear presentation have never been the former vice president’s strong suit," they note, but despite "garble and a verbal stumble now and then," there was "nothing remotely close to a death blow to Biden’s candidacy."
- "Facts took a hit." The AP's fact-checking of the debate notes that the "facts took a hit right out of the gate", when Trump "misrepresented the reality of the pandemic in myriad and familiar ways," while "Biden, at times, was selective on the coronavirus and other matters, at one point stating that no one under Obamacare lost private health coverage. Millions did."
- Medicare-for-all among the losers. In a list of debate winners and losers at Vox, Medicare-for-all ranks among the losers. Biden rejected Trump's claim that he was pushing for "socialized medicine," telling the Republican that he had beaten numerous rivals who supported a single-payer system. "The reason why I had such a fight with 20 candidates for the nomination was I support private insurance," Biden said. "Not one single person with private insurance would lose their insurance under my plan, nor did they under ObamaCare."
- "Better for the country." This was the kind of debate people were hoping for the first time around, with "a clear contrast on policies and almost no incomprehensible crosstalk," writes Jim Geraghty at National Review. "Compared to the first debate, this was Lincoln and Douglas. Okay, maybe more like Statler and Waldorf," he writes. "But it was much better for everyone: better for Trump, better for Biden, and better for the country." He says it's "unfortunate for the Trump campaign" that there will not be a third debate.
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