Reviewing the Third US Presidential debate

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The first debate was a chaotic, verbal fight. The second was cancelled following Trump’s inevitable Coronavirus diagnosis and his refusal to partake in a virtual debate. All eyes now turned on Thursday to the final and 3rd debate in the 2020 US election, with many expecting more fireworks. Many expected the childish insults to continue, whilst also hoping for any unexpected moments, such as Trump walking out in anger at questioning, or Biden stumbling over his words. Maybe even a cameo from third party candidate and rapper Kanye West didn’t seem out of question given how strange politics in the US has turned in recent years. However, none of that came to fruition, as we experienced a calmer, and in some ways a more ‘normal’, debate. Despite the event not being as much of a cinematic experience as the first debate or subsequent town hall conventions, there was still a lot to unpack.

Issues that came up included racism, immigration and climate change for example, with the candidates also focusing on foreign policy and healthcare. However, the one issue that both candidates couldn’t possibly ignore was the coronavirus. The virus has taken over 220,000 lives, whilst also destroying the once-booming American economy, and it has become an issue that has split both Democrats and Republicans. This wasn’t put on show any more than in the debate, as Trump continued his support for a blasé response to the virus, believing that ‘we have to learn to live with it’. Biden, quite rightly, pointed out that this policy and response has failed, given that 220,000 American lives have been lost already, and a possible 200,000 more could be lost by the end of the year. While Trump continued to make his baseless claim of a vaccine being available by the end of the year, Biden warned of a “dark winter”, and claimed he would implement a mask mandate and ramp up testing as President, while also not ruling out the possibility of further local lockdowns. However, Biden’s claims were equally vague and rarely extended beyond his initial promise to ‘listen to the science’.  As this is the third debate, this wasn’t anything different to what people already knew, and given the catastrophic nature of the Trump administration’s response to the Covid-19 virus, it wasn’t going to change the majority of Americans minds that Trump has failed in protecting them.

Proceeding the focus on Coronavirus, Biden and Trump argued over healthcare and foreign policy continuously. Trump repeatedly falsely claimed Biden was promising universal healthcare paid for by the federal government and kept making up the false “bombshell” story about Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, that claimed he used his position at the top of the board of Ukrainian energy firm Burisma to enrich his father. The story is completely false and has been debunked numerous times, despite Rudy Guiliani (when not seducing Borat’s daughter) repeatedly trying to make Americans believe otherwise. Biden then tried to point towards Trump cosying up with world dictators such as Putin, Kim-Jong-Un and Xi Jinping at the start of the pandemic. Biden could have seized on one of the major issues Americans have with Trump. Americans are less than impressed that he has made the US a laughing stock in the world and made them more exposed to external threats. No more was this As seen last November at the NATO summit, leaders from allied nations such as Canada, the UK and France were all caught on mic laughing about his unusual and un-diplomatic manners. However, Biden failed here, as he stumbled over his words and was unable to make a coherent attack on Trump’s poor record on foreign relations or set out his plans for future relations with allies as President, instead finding himself defending against completely baseless claims about his son’s behaviour. Claims made against Biden in terms of taking money from foreign countries from the Trump campaign have been numerous, but they have constantly been debunked by intelligence community leaders, as either conspiracy theories or Russian propaganda. It is unlikely voters will believe Trump, except diehard Trump fans and Qanon followers,  and on the issue of foreign policy, Biden’s experience covers him better than Trump, even if he stumbled on the issue in the debate.

As the debate came to a closing, the candidates were asked questions on immigration, racism and climate change. On immigration, Trump was pressed on his child separation policy at the border, which has left 525 children separated from their parents, with immigration control having no ability to reunite those kids to their parents. Instead of fully justifying his horrific policy, Trump accused the Obama administration of building the cages that holds the children, and that the children weren’t in fact brought over by desperate parents, but rather by so-called “coyotes”. His baseless claims were rebuffed by Biden, who enforced that the Obama-Biden administration did not have a policy of family separation at the border, and Biden was also quite clearly infuriated by Trump’s false and racist claims that it was rapists and murderers who tried to bring the children to the border. The issue of immigration policy could have a large effect on the election, especially on southern states such as Florida, Texas and Arizona. The way the large Hispanic communities in these states vote could prove vital to whoever wins these states, and in turn, could decide the fate of the election. Trump won around 29% of the Hispanic vote in 2016, and if he can get that type of support, or more, especially in Florida, then he could see himself win with ease across the country. However, Biden will hope that he can stave off Cuban support in Florida for Trump while making surprising wins in Arizona. His message that the current immigration policies “make us a laughing stock and it goes against every notion of who we are as a nation” may, for Biden, lead to a resounding victory in southern states on the Mexican border. Undoubtedly, out of all the points made on Thursday, immigration was something that both candidates hadn’t been pressed on previously, and this exchange on immigration policy was by far the most vital and impactful moment in the debate on the election outcome, on what was largely an uneventful night.

On race in America, Trump was pressed to clarify his words in telling the far-right and white supremacist group the Proud Boys, to “stand back and stand by” in the first debate, along with his numerous racist messages, such as him reposting a video of a Trump supporter shouting “white power” in Florida. Trump responded by claiming he was the “least racist person in the room” and that he had done more for the African-American community than any over President in the US history, “with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln”, of course. Not only is this false (Lyndon B. Johnson signing into law the Civil Rights Act, which ended segregation in the south, is just one of many Presidents who clearly did more than Trump), but it is also unlikely to attract any votes from African-Americans who can see straight through this blatant lie. Even Trump realises this, and that’s why he tried to focus on Biden’s record on race, rather than his own. He pointed towards the 1994 Crime Bill, which Biden was accredited with being the author of, and the Obama and Biden administration which had failed to pass promised criminal justice reform. Biden had already apologised for the mistakes made in that crime bill in the previous week during the separated town halls, and in the debate he pointed out that Obama’s administration only failed to pass criminal justice reform, due to the Republican-controlled Congress. On securing the black vote, Biden will not worry about securing the vast majority of votes in African-American communities, as he will likely win 90% plus of the black vote, but rather whether turnout amongst African-Americans will stay below-par as it did in 2016, as enthusiasm for Hilary Clinton was nowhere near the levels that Obama had garnered in 2008 or 2012.  Biden will hope that his larger popularity amongst older black voters especially, as seen in the South Carolina primary, will be sufficient enough in him bettering Clinton’s support, or lack thereof, in 2016.

Overall, the debate was not as exciting as previewed to be, and was perhaps a return to “normality” for once in this election. Both candidates, especially Trump, rained themselves in from interruptions when the other candidate was speaking, and there was a greater discussion on policies ranging from coronavirus to immigration and racism. However, nothing about this election is normal, and given how volatile American politics has been over recent years, expect the unexpected on the 3rd of November. Given that only about 6% of registered voters claimed to be undecided (a historic low), it is unlikely that the third debate, or any other debate or town hall for that matter, has affected the way the US will vote, making these debates possibly the most entertaining whilst least important debates in US political history