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'I'm the least racist person in this room': The key moments and takeaways from the US presidential debate

The flow was better but the insults were still flying.

election-2020-debate The candidates were 12 feet apart but had no plexiglass screen between them. Source: PA Images

NASHVILLE IS HOME to some of the most famous stages in the world and tonight’s was certainly the most watched, with the ‘Music City’ hosting the final presidential debate. 

US President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden took part in a fractious and almost unwatchable debate three weeks ago, with hopes that tonight would be better. 

By all accounts it was – more watchable, that is. The animosity between the pair was clear to see but the constant interruption that dogged the previous debate was less of a feature. 

Here are some of the main talking points and biggest moments. 

‘I am the least racist person in this room’

Source: news.com.au/YouTube

After refusing to directly condemn white supremacists in the first debate, Trump made some astonishing and honestly bizarre claims about racism in America.

Particularly in reference to what his administration has done in the fight against racism. 

Speaking to African-American moderator Kristen Welker, Trump said that he “can’t see the audience because it’s so dark”, but nonetheless knows that he’s “the least racist person in this room”. 

Trump repeatedly sought to compare what he said were his achievements on fighting racism with Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States who abolished slavery. 

“Not since Abraham Lincoln has anybody done what I’ve done for the black community,” Trump said. 

To justify this astonishing claim, Trump cited the 2018 criminal justice reform bill passed by Congress which received huge bipartisan support

Biden was having none of it, saying that Trump “pours fuel on every single racist fire” and claiming he “has a dog whistle about as big as a fog horn”. 

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

Trump dials it down, relatively speaking

Source: ABC News/YouTube

White it may be impossible for Trump to dial down the bombast, he certainly reined in his previous tactic of interrupting Biden at every turn. 

Much was made of the fact that there was greater control over the microphones this time, with the candidates’ mics switched off when their opponent was giving an initial answer to a question. 

They could still talk over one other in the open discussion section and, while this happened, it happened far less frequently than the first debate. 

Perhaps the microphone move had something to do with it, but more likely it was down to the fact that Trump’s tactic didn’t work first time out and he had to change tack.

Source: NBC News/YouTube

All manner of post-debate polls showed that Trump’s interruptions didn’t play well in the first debate, and even Republicans have been calling on him to focus on getting his own message out there and not shutting down Biden’s. 

Speaking ahead of the debate, Republican strategist Sarah Fagen told ABC News that there are many US conservatives that “don’t like him but do like his policies”.

Trump was perhaps targeting those voters when he started off at least with a more measured tone. As the debate wore on though the gloves started to come off and the mudslinging began. 

In one particularly cruel comment, Trump suggested that only migrants “with the lowest IQ” would return to the US after being deported. 

A word on our moderator 

After any debate, it’s a bit of a cliché to say that the moderator won. But it must be said that Kristen Welker should take serious credit and satisfaction for the improved tone of the debate. 

Welker delivered clear and concise questions to each of the candidates and managed to maintain relative order without having to really get into it with the candidates. 

Source: NBC News/YouTube

The NBC News journalist did refrain from stepping in to fact-check some of the wilder claims Trump threw out, but doing so would perhaps have broken up the flow of a debate that moved much better than many that went before.

One time when Welker clearly stepped in was when Trump made specific claims about when Americans could get access to a vaccine. 

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

Welker followed this up, pointing out that his own health officials have said it will take “well into 2021″ for many Americans to get any vaccine that is cleared. 

It was absolutely appropriate for Welker to step in on what is one of the most pertinent issues facing people across the US right now. Overall a very good night for the host. 

Smokin’ Joe Biden

Much like his pugilistic namesake Joe Frazier, Biden came equipped with some hefty one-liners that were delivered at the right time and with the right force. 

Sometimes pre-prepared one-liners can come off a bit forced, but if Biden had prepared them in advance he used them wisely and to good effect. 

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His best was perhaps in the segment on coronavirus and after Trump said “we’re learning to live with it”. 

Biden didn’t jump in straight away but waited for his chance to respond and said simply:

He says we’re learning to live with it, people are learning to die with it. 

Source: news.com.au/YouTube

Trump even appeared a little shook by the answer, knowing perhaps that the increasing tragic death toll in the US is the most damaging fact facing his campaign. 

Biden sought to push home what he clearly sees as an advantage, stating: “220,000 Americans dead…… Anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths should not remain as President of the United States of America.”

Tonight was undeniably a good night for the former vice president, who appears to be far more comfortable taking on Trump than he was facing his Democratic opponents. 

Facing the different strands of his party, Biden often appeared outflanked and looked vulnerable. Since he became his party’s standard bearer however, he has grown in stature and confidence and that shone through tonight.  

At several points, Trump sought to attack the policies of Bernie Sanders only for Biden to respond with another good line. 

“He’s a very confused guy. He thinks he’s running against somebody else. He’s running against Joe Biden.”

The Hunter becomes the hunted

In a ballsy move, Biden brought up the ongoing Ukrainian controversy before Trump had a chance to. 

Ahead of tonight’s debate, it was expected that Trump would go big on corruption claims he and his allies have made against Biden’s son Hunter, and by extension the former vice president. 

Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani has been pushing these allegations again in the past couple of weeks, providing materials to the New York Post that other media outlets have said are dubious. 

Rather than waiting for Trump to attack him over it, Biden brought it up first by saying: “his buddy Rudy Giuliani is being used as a Russian pawn”.

Trump raised the issue repeatedly thereafter, saying there were “damning” allegations and attempted to put Biden on the spot by saying: “I think you owe an explanation to the American people.”

Biden flipped the attack, saying no wrongdoing had ever been shown by his family and that serious questions were mounting around Trump himself, including his holding of a bank account in China and failing to publish his US tax returns. 

He also used it as a chance to remind the country that Trump was in fact impeached when he tried to force Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. 

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

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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