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US PRESIDENT DONALD Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden faced off for the second and final time in a live TV debate tonight.

There were to be three debates but Trump’s Covid-19 infection put paid to that plan.

Millions of Americans have already voted by way of postal ballots with election day proper just 11 days away, so tonight was the final big chance for the candidates to push their message. 

Here’s how it all played out. 

Hello there and good morning.

Rónán Duffy here from the Music City in Tennessee!

Not really though, I’m not in Nashville for tonight’s debate, just saying up back in Ireland like everyone else. 

I am excited about the debate though. US presidential elections are long and drawn out affairs but we really are entering the end game now.

There are less than two weeks to go and with last week’s debate cancelled, this final one perhaps takes on some extra significance. 

Just a quick reminder of what the format will be for tonight’s debate.

There be six segments of 15 minutes each on different topics, with the moderator asking questions about that topic. 

When the moderator asks a question, each candidate will have two minutes to answer before they then have a chance to respond to one another.

Interestingly, after the previous debate where Trump interrupted Biden throughout, tonight’s debate will see a candidate’s microphone muted when their opponent is delivering that initial 2 minute response.  

It will be fascinating to see what effect this will have on tonight’s proceedings.  

Oh, and the six topics in question are: Fighting Covid-19, American families, race in America, climate change, national security and leadership

A word about tonight’s moderator.

The person who’s job it will be to attempt to keep things civil will be NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker. 

The Harvard-educated journalist is the anchor of a one of NBC’s weekend news shows and you may be familiar with her if you’ve tuned into Trump’s infamous coronavirus White House briefings.

Welker will be the first black woman to serve as the moderator of a presidential debate since Carole Simpson in 1992.

Her selection as host has been criticised by Trump.

In case you were wondering why there’s no Kanye West up there tonight (yes, he is running for the presidency), there’s a number of criteria a candidate must meet to get on the debate stage. 

They must be eligible to be US president, be on the ballot in enough states to theoretically win the presidency and must also be at at least 15% in the polls. 

Technically, there are over 1,200 other candidates running for president but many of their candidacies are not really serious

The last time a third candidate took part in a mainstream TV debate was in 1996 when billionaire Ross Perot joined with Bill Clinton and Bob Dole. 

For what its worth, Kanye West is on the ballot in 15 states as per Ballotpedia.org, but the states he’s running in wouldn’t be enough to win him the presidency.

He’s spent almost $10 million on the presidential run so far.  

Trump is officially en route anyway…

The state of play in the race is quite interesting and will no doubt play into how the two candidates approach tonight. 

As I wrote myself a couple of months ago, the route for Trump to win the White House is much slimmer than it is for Biden. Trump’s win over Clinton last time came down to victories in three states, and this time around Biden appears to be winning them. 

In the six battleground states people are watching most closely, Biden appears to be winning in all of them. 

It doesn’t mean he’s home and hosed, but it could well mean that Trump has to go for some knockout blows this evening.

Our US columnist Larry Donnelly went even further on Sunday, coming to the conclusion that Trump needs “a political miracle” to pull off another victory

Donnelly writes that some Republicans are clinging to the hope that Biden could have a “meltdown of epic proportions” in tonight’s debate: 

This will engender sincere and legitimate misgivings as to his capacity to be the commander-in-chief. Thus, many will decide to stick with the “devil they know.” If Biden manages to escape the upcoming debate without making a major blunder, Republicans’ hopes on this score are probably dashed.

Strategists from both the Democrats and Republicans have similar feelings. 

Here’s Rahm Emanuel, ex-Chicago Mayor and Barack Obama’s former chief of staff, with a US-friendly sports analogy on ABC News in the last hour. 

“You (Biden) don’t have a lead enough to rest on. I think Donald Trump has to hit a Grand Slam and Joe Biden has to hit a single, and that’s how it’s going to get scored.”

On the Trump side, Republican strategist Sarah Fagen thinks Trump’s needs to dial it down to win some conservative voters who might like his policies: 

One of his best performances in this campaign was with the town hall several weeks ago. He was calm, he answered the questions, he wasn’t overly combative, you actually heard some substance from him that evening, he’s got to do that again tonight. When you look at polling he underperforms a generic Republican many times, it suggests, there’s some low hanging fruit for him yet in this election. Those voters, they don’t like him. they do like his policies, he’s got to give them something tonight, a reason to go cast a vote for him. 

Some late breaking news, and a very 2020 mood altogether. 

The plexiglass that was to separate the candidates has been removed. Trump’s campaign had requested it be taken down because the candidates are more that 12 feet (or 2 metres in our money) apart. 

“The medical advisers also called Dr. Anthony Fauci and the public health expert “agreed that the plexiglass wouldn’t do anything,” Frank Fahrenkopf, head of the debate commission, told CNN. 

So there we go. 

First up, as we know is coronavirus. 

Trump has already spoken about his own experience with the virus. 

“I was in for a short period of time and I got better very fast or I wouldn’t be here tonight. And now they say I’m immune, whether it’s four months or a lifetime nobody has been able to say that, but I’m immune.”

“It will go away and as I say, we’re rounding the turn, we’re rounding the corner, it’s going away.”

PastedImage-74918

So far, so civil as the pair can’t speak over one another in the opening answers.

“220,000 Americans dead,” Biden says. “Anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths should not remain as President of the United States of America.”

Trump is claiming that a vaccine “is coming” and says that the US military is getting ready to deliver it “at warp speed”. 

Welker follows up with Trump on his claims on an imminent vaccine, pointing out that his own health officials have said it will take “well into 2021″ for many Americans to get the vaccine. 

“I don’t know that they’re counting on the military the way I do,” Trump says. 

PastedImage-60404 Source: ABC News

Interestingly, Trump decides not to talk over Biden and raises his hand to follow up on a point the Democrat made.

We didn’t see much of that three weeks ago.

Trump doesn’t often speak about his youngest son Barron. 

He’s brought him up here though and attempts to use the 14-year-olds’ recovery from Covid-19 as a reason why it’s not as dangerous for young people. 

“I have a young son, he also tested positive. By the time I spoke to the doctor, the second time he was fine, it just went away. Young people, I guess it’s their immune system.”

If you had ’20 minute’s for Trump’s first mention of Hillary Clinton you’ve won your pool.

Trump brought up the 2016 candidate in the middle of an exchange about campaign funding, saying he could “blow away” Biden’s funding records if he “took money from Wall Street”.

“We don’t need money, we have plenty of money in fact we beat Hillary Clinton with a tiny fraction of the money,” Trump says. 

“Average donation $43,” Biden responds about his own fundraising. 

Trump is repeating corruption allegations he has made against Biden and his son Hunter, claims that actually got the president impeached when he sought to encourage the Ukrainian president to investigate Hunter.

Trump allies, particularly his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, have started pushing these allegations more in the past couple of weeks. 

This has included Giuliani providing material for a New York Post tabloid detailing some of the allegations.  The New York Post has reported that the FBI had seized a computer that purportedly belonged to Hunter Biden.

Many US outlets have shied away from reporting on this material, partly because of doubts about their origins and even fears they are part of a Russian misinformation campaign. 

Here’s what the New York Times has said about the New York Post’s reporting: 

The Post article relied on documents purportedly taken from the computer to try to buttress an unsubstantiated argument peddled by Mr. Giuliani and other Trump supporters: that as vice president, Mr. Biden had shaped American foreign policy in Ukraine to benefit his son. 

Mr. Biden has long said he knew nothing about his son’s business activities in Ukraine. But the article suggested that the former vice president met with an adviser to a Ukrainian energy company whose board Hunter Biden sat on, Burisma Holdings.

……..

A Biden campaign spokesman said Mr. Biden’s official schedules did not show a meeting between the two men. A lawyer for Hunter Biden, George Mesires, told The Washington Post that “this purported meeting never happened.”

Biden is asked directly by Welker about Hunter’s work in Ukraine and whether it influenced his own work there as Vice President. 

“Every single solitary person, when he was going through his impeachment, testified under oath that I did my job impeccably,” Biden says. 

He adds a nice line as he points at Trump: 

The guy who got in trouble in Ukraine was this guy, trying to bribe the Ukrainian government to say something negative about me. 

He’s not wrong. 

It’s absolutely worth reminding everyone at this point that Trump is just the third US president in history to be impeached by the US House of Representatives. 

He was impeached for abuse of power for conditioning military aid on Ukraine’s announcing investigations into Democrats. A reminder of all that here

Trump remained as President because the Republican-majority Senate voted against removing him from office.  

Back to that pool. If you had ‘malarkey’ at 43 minutes from Biden you’ve also won a few quid. 

PastedImage-82794

The debate has officially been Godwinned, with Biden taking issue with Trump saying it’s good that he has a good relationship with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. 

“You know what, North Korea, we’re not no war, we have a good relationship,” Trump says. 

“We had a good relationship with Hitler before he in fact invaded Europe,” Biden says. 

Welker (who is have a great debate as moderator) points out to Trump that North Korea has been bragging about its missiles recently. 

“North Korea recently rolled out its biggest ever intercontinental ballistic missile and continues to develop its nuclear arsenal,” she says. 

PastedImage-80994 Source: ABC News

Outside of presidential politics, Democrats and Republicans have been trying and failing to pass a bill to deliver cash injections to states to respond to the fallout from Covid-19. 

“As of tonight, more than 12 million people are out of work, and as of tonight, 8 million more Americans have fallen into poverty and more families are going hungry every day, those hit hardest are women and people of colour,” Welker says to Trump

“They see Washington fighting over a relief bill. Mr. President, why haven’t you been able to get them the help they need.”

Trump: Because Nancy Pelosi doesn’t want to approve it, I do,

Welker: But you’re the president.

Trump: Yes, but I still have to get, unfortunately,  that’s one of the reasons I think we’re going to take over the House because of her, Nancy Pelosi.

It was revealed this week that the Trump administration have yet to track down the parents of 545 children and that about two-thirds of those parents were deported to Central America without their children

“So how will these families ever be reunited?,” Welker asks Trump. 

He responds: 

Children were brought here by coyotes and lots of bad people, cartels, they’re brought here and they used to use them to get into our country, we now have as strong a border as we’ve ever had, were over 400 miles of brand new wall.

PastedImage-66166 Source: ABC News

Biden gets visibly angry at what Trump is saying.

“Coyotes didn’t bring them over, their parents were with them. They got separated from their parents, and it makes us a laughing stock and violates every notion of who we are as a nation,” he says. 

We’re now in the Race in America segment. 

Welker: 

I want to talk about the way black and brown Americans experience race in this country. Part of that experience is something called the talk. It happens regardless of class and income. Parents who feel they have no choice but to prepare their children for the chance that they could be targeted, including by the police for no reason other than the colour of their skin.

Biden’s initial response, he speaks about “working on the east side of Wilmington, Delaware which is 90% African American”. 

He adds:  

The fact of the matter is, there is institutional racism in America. And we have always said, we’ve never lived up to it do, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident all men and women are created equal, but guess what, we have never ever lived up to but we’ve all we’ve constantly been moving the needle further and further to inclusion, not exclusion.

“This is the first president come along and says that’s the end of that we’re not going to do that anymore.”

Some truly extraordinary claims from Trump here:

Nobody has done more for the black community than Donald Trump. And if you look, with the exception of Abraham Lincoln, possible exception but the exception of Abraham Lincoln, nobody has done what I’ve done. Criminal justice reform, Obama and Joe didn’t do it.

“I don’t even think they tried because they had no chance at doing it. They might have wanted to do it, but if you had to see the arms I had a twist to get that done?”

Welker is asking Trump about Blacks Lives Matter. 

He responds:

The first time I ever heard of Black Lives Matter. They were chanting pigs in a blanket, talking about police ‘pigs pigs’, police pigs in a blanket fry them like bacon. I said that’s a horrible thing.

PastedImage-30847 Source: ABC News

Some more good one-liners from Biden.

“Abraham Lincoln here is one of the most racist presidents we’ve had in modern history,” he says. 

This guy has a dog whistle about as big as a fog horn. 

This is where we are. 

We’re coming towards the end of the debate now.

It’s been fairly rough of course but it’s actually been quite…..okay to listen to?

Trump has certainly dialled down the aggression from the first debate, as most people agreed he needed to do. 

For Biden, the general feeling was that all he needed to do was not make any big mistakes. He’s in fact been much, much better than that. An impressive performance from the former vice president. 

Meanwhile, we’re onto talking about climate change. 

Trump to Biden: “I know more about wind than you do. It’s extremely, expensive kills all the birds.”

“I love solar, but solar doesn’t quite have it yet, it’s not powerful yet to really run our big, beautiful factories that we need to compete with the world.”

PastedImage-69001 Source: ABC News

One final question, Welker says. 

Imagine this is your Inauguration Day. What will you say in your address to America to the Americans who did not vote for you?

Trump squarely doesn’t answer it. Instead attacks Biden. 

Here’s the end of his minute:

I’m cutting taxes, and he wants to raise everybody’s taxes and he wants to put regulations are everything. He will kill it. If he gets in, you will have a depression, the likes of which you’ve never seen your 401 K’s will go to hell, and it’ll be a very very sad day for this country. 

Here’s Biden’s response: 

I will say, I’m an American president. I represent all of you, whether you voted for me or against me, and I’m going to make sure that you’re represented. I’m going to give you hope, we’re going to move we’re going to choose science over fiction, we’re going to choose hope over fear, we’re going to choose to move forward because we have enormous opportunities, enormous opportunities to make things better. 

jill Source: ABC News

And there we have it, it’s all over. 

Both wives are on stage. Both wearing masks. 

Joe Biden puts a mask on, Donald Trump doesn’t.

PastedImage-97589 Source: ABC News

As ever, both camps are out of the blocks quickly to claim victory in tonight’s debate. 

We won’t have the usual ‘spin room’ interviews due to Covid-19 but it’s all happening online. 

I’m going to round up some of the biggest breakout moments from tonight’s debate so I’ll bring this liveblog to a close. 

If you were following along with us tonight thanks for joining us, and go get some sleep! 

Oíche mhaith. 

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Rónán Duffy

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