Presidential debate results: Who won the final Trump-Biden debate?

Independent Staff
·5 min read
Election 2020 Debate (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Election 2020 Debate (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Donald Trump and Joe Biden met for the second and last presidential debate with less than two weeks before Election Day. Here The Independent’s US team have their say on who they think came out best.

John Bennett, Washington Bureau Chief

Joe Biden came out swinging tonight and Donald Trump never recovered. The former vice president made a strong case that over 222,000 Americans have died from coronavirus, in large part, because of the Trump administration's response to the deadly disease.

Time and again, the president deflected blame and floated unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. Perhaps the night's most powerful moment came when Mr Biden objected to the president's repeated claims that he and son Hunter Biden improperly benefited from the father's tenure as VP. "It's not about his family or my family. It's about your family," Mr Biden said, pointing directly at the camera. "They're (families) in trouble. We should be talking about your families. But that's the last thing he wants to talk about."

It's doubtful the debate changed many minds, but if undecided voters and former Republicans who have left the president's orbit since 2016 are turned off by Mr Trump's antics, they probably made up their minds by 10.30pm ET.

Louise Boyle, Senior Climate Correspondent

On climate change, it's no contest: between a president who has derided the scientific community and repeatedly espouses climate denial talking points, and Mr Biden who accepts the opinion of the overwhelming majority of climate scientists that the planet is facing an "existential threat".

For Trump it was the same word salad as the first debate: a "trillion" trees, clean air, clean water, "loving the environment". Climate change in Trump's view means "bird-killing" windmills, and "tiny windows".

Biden also repeated much of what he's been saying since the summer and reverts to plan: climate change equals millions of "good-paying jobs".

Holly Baxter, US Voices Editor

Ultimately, this election comes down to two rich and extraordinary people trying their hardest to position themselves as the American everyman. It's disingenuous from them both, but it's especially disingenuous from Trump - and that's why he lost tonight. Like his claims about Biden's "shady family", the hypocrisy is laughable and only reflects badly on him. "He's a very confused guy. He thinks he's running against someone else," said Biden, about halfway into the debate, when Trump had just delivered a tirade about socialism and Bernie Sanders. He was right in more than one sense: When Trump doesn't attack the ghost of Bernie, he attacks the ghost of Hillary Clinton with claims about political dynasties and DC bureaucrats. It doesn't work. Polling shows it hasn't been working for a good few months.

Biden, who has been civil but uninspiring through a lot of the public performances thus far, came out swinging today. The soundbites he had prepared and the ones that were clearly off-the-cuff were well-timed and effective. A clearly rehearsed speech about the soul of the nation and choosing "science over fiction, hope over fear" rounded off the debate much better than Trump's word salad about the "China plague".

It would be unfair to say Trump disgraced himself tonight. He came to the podium with a lot more specificity and a lot more to say on policy than he has previously. Nevertheless, as Biden grew in confidence throughout the hour and a half, Trump fell apart. He can only sustain a presidential show for about 10 minutes before he feels the need to convert into rally mode, and rally mode is badly suited for a debate with a silent, invisible audience and a list of hard-hitting questions. It's also badly suited to reconciling a divided country – and it feels like a lot of undecided voters who watched tonight may have come to that conclusion.

Lucy Gray, US Audience Editor

Tonight's debate was far calmer than the previous Trump-Biden showdown we saw, perhaps even more so than Pence-Harris. This more sedate, mature environment allowed the candidates to get their teeth into the big election issues and show their true colors. Joe Biden took the president to task over immigration, coronavirus, international relations; the more measured setup allowed the Democrat to bring some real politics to the table - finally. Donald Trump was not completely trounced, but his election messages were often unclear, and certainly tired seeming. Overall tonight's winner? Joe Biden.

Griffin Connolly, US Political Reporter

While both candidates mostly held their tongues on Thursday while the other was speaking – a refreshing change from the first presidential debate – Mr Biden and Mr Trump both derailed several conversations about foreign policy by alluding to allegations of corruption.

Mr Biden dinged Mr Trump for paying more in federal taxes to the Chinese government than the US government, while Mr Trump repeatedly dredged up convoluted conspiracy theories about the former vice president and his son Hunter Biden, who has had several overseas business ventures.

Anyone who thinks Mr Biden is a loopy old geriatric incapable of deep policy thought can take a seat, as he laid out detailed policy positions on climate change, fracking, health care, and nuclear deterrance on the Korean peninsula.

Richard Hall, Senior US Correspondent

It took this long, 12 days before Election Day, for the two candidates running for president of the United States to have anything close to a substantial discussion about the most important issue facing the country: the coronavirus pandemic.

For more than 15 minutes, Donald Trump and Joe Biden set out their respective pitches on how they would deal with the coronavirus.

On the substance, Mr Biden said he would back the scientists. Mr Trump said he disagreed with scientists on the need for lockdowns, and criticised America's foremost expert in infectious diseases, Dr Anthony Fauci.

On this issue, Mr Biden is polling far ahead of Mr Trump. The president needed to win over elderly voters who are switching to Mr Biden, but he said nothing today that will convince undecideds that he is prepared to handle the cold winter ahead.

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