NASHVILLE, Tenn. – President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden fought over how to tame the raging coronavirus during the campaign's closing debate, largely shelving the rancor that overshadowed their previous face-off in favor of a more substantive exchange that highlighted their vastly different approaches to the major domestic and foreign challenges facing the nation.
The Republican president declared the virus, which killed more than 1,000 Americans on Thursday alone, will “go away.” Biden countered that the nation was heading toward “a dark winter.”
“Anyone who is responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America,” Biden said.
With less than two weeks until the election, Trump portrayed himself as the same outsider he first pitched to voters four years ago, repeatedly saying he wasn’t a politician. Biden, meanwhile, argued that Trump was an incompetent leader of a country facing multiple crises and tried to connect what he saw as the president’s failures to the everyday lives of Americans, especially when it comes to the pandemic.
The president, who promised a vaccine within weeks, said the worst problems are in states with Democratic governors, a contention at odds with rising cases in states that voted for Trump in 2016. Biden, meanwhile, vowed that his administration would defer to scientists on battling the pandemic and said that Trump's divisive approach on suffering states hindered the nation's response.
“I don’t look at this in terms of the way he does — blue states and red states,” Biden said. “They’re all the United States. And look at all the states that are having such a spike in the coronavirus — they’re the red states.”
After a first debate defined by angry interruptions, the Thursday event featured a mostly milder tone. And in a campaign defined by ugly personal attacks, the night featured a surprising amount of substantive policy debate as the two broke sharply on the environment, foreign policy, immigration and racial justice.
When Trump repeatedly asked Biden if he would “close down the oil industry,” the Democratic standardbearer said he “would transition from the oil industry, yes,” and that he would replace it by renewable energy “over time.” Trump, making a direct appeal to voters in energy producing states like Texas and the vital battleground of Pennsylvania, seized upon the remark as “a big statement.”