South Ogden, Utah — Unlike the first debate, Thursday's final presidential debate was calmer, muted (thanks to the ability to mute the mics at times), and less combative. President Donald Trump, recovered from COVID-19, walked onto the stage maskless unlike his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.
NBC anchor Kristen Welker, who moderated the debate at Belmont University in Nashville, was intent on covering the topics of coronavirus, American families, race in America, climate change, national security and leadership.
There were some expected moments such as Biden pushing the importance of the country’s character being on this ballot and Trump hashing out statements that may or may not be true. But what was unexpected was Trump’s calm behavior, Biden’s stumble over Proud Boys (referring to them as Poor Boys), and Welker’s ability to keep the two men (mostly) on track.
Here are our top takeaways from the debate.
The start of the debate was dedicated to the pandemic and what each candidate intends to do if they win. Taking note of his own experience with the virus, Trump claimed a vaccine could be released as early as in a couple of weeks. When pressed by Welker, however, Trump said it was no guarantee.
Biden refuted it and said the Trump administration lied to Americans, worried they would panic. It's a statement repeatedly mentioned by his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, during the vice presidential debate.
Pushing that the Trump administration still doesn't have a plan, Biden emphasized that if elected, he would put resources towards mask enforcement, rapid testing, national standards on how to reopen schools and businesses, as well as contact tracing.
On the topic of reopening the economy, the candidates debated whether it was the right time to raise the minimum wage. Biden, mentioning that many small businesses may have to be bailed out eventually, said raising the minimum wage would have no impact on the success or failure of those businesses.
Meanwhile, Trump claimed that forcing a raised minimum wage would not help and could force small business owners to fire or lay off employees. He furthered his point by saying that anything to do with the minimum wage should be a state-by-state option, even though he would consider raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Trump and Biden clashed on immigration and debated how the Trump administration has failed to reunite more than 500 migrant children separated from their parents.
Trump claimed a majority of those children were brought to the United States “by coyotes and lots of bad people.” Then, rather than giving any specifics as to how to reunite these children with their families, Trump turned the finger to Biden and said, “they built cages.”
Biden meanwhile said those children indeed came with parents and that “they separated them at the border to make it a disincentive to come to begin with … it makes us a laughing stock and violates every notion of who we are as a nation.”
Race in America
Welker brought race to the debate by introducing it through “the talk,” referencing how Black families teach their kids how to interact with police officers.
Asking both candidates to speak directly to these families, Biden said he never had to give his daughter “the talk.” He sympathized with parents who fear for their children's lives and said the United States needs to address its institutionalized racism.
Meanwhile, Trump pointed to Biden’s association with the 1994 Crime Bill as his failure to Black Americans and that “nobody has done more for the Black community than Donald Trump … I am the least racist person in this room.”
While the topic of climate change was cut short, it was yet again brought up for discussion, but thankfully not on its existence. Instead, both candidates focused on what industrial changes may lie ahead.
Biden, persistent that climate change is an existential threat to humanity, said that four more years under Trump would put us past the point of no return. In a similar tone, Trump said Biden’s plans would be an economic disaster and that under the current administration, “we have the best carbon emission numbers that we’ve had in 35 years.”
It may have been too much to expect a perfectly civil debate, but at least the candidates tackled some critical issues, and that’s more than can be said for the previous debate.