final 2020 debate
October 23, 2020

It looks like the final 2020 debate match-up between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden didn't draw quite as big of a TV audience as the first one.

Preliminary numbers from Nielsen on Friday showed that Thursday's debate between Trump and Biden averaged 55.2 million viewers across six networks, CNN and The New York Times report. This, CNN notes, was down roughly 11 percent from the 62 million viewers who tuned in on those networks to the first debate last month.

Nielsen will provide updated figures later on Friday taking into account viewers on other channels. When those final figures from Nielsen were added for the first debate, the total came out to about 73 million viewers, which made it the third highest-rated general election debate Nielsen has recorded, the Times notes.

The second debate between Trump and Biden was widely seen as more of a success than the first one, which was derailed by frequent interruptions from Trump. Thursday's debate was originally meant to be the third for the 2020 election, but a second was scrapped after Trump refused to particulate over plans to hold it virtually. Brendan Morrow

October 23, 2020

"President Trump yet again broke the fact-check meter at the second presidential debate, while Democratic nominee Joe Biden made relatively few gaffes," The Washington Post's fact-check team concluded after Thursday's final presidential debate of 2020.

"The facts took a hit right out of the gate Thursday night," The Associated Press concurred. "Trump's first line of the night, about COVID-19 deaths, was false," and he "misrepresented the reality of the pandemic in myriad and familiar ways, insisting against obvious reality that the pandemic is drawing to a close." At times, Biden "was selective on the coronavirus and other matters, at one point stating that no one under ObamaCare lost private health coverage," AP adds. "Millions did."

"Biden was far from perfect — he had some false claims, he had some misleading claims, and some claims lacking in context," CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale said, pointing specifically to anti-fracking comments Biden made during the Democratic primary. "But again, it's just apples and oranges, no comparison in the frequency and generally the magnitude of the false claims from these two candidates."

Trump "is running for re-election on a strategy of serial, deliberate dishonesty, and it's getting worse," Dale said. "The version of Trump we got in this debate is worse from a fact-check perspective, from an honestly perspective, than the Trump we got in that first debate, even though he was more belligerent in the first debate. His rallies are also getting more dishonest. And it's just a bombardment. I mean, literally his first sentence tonight was inaccurate — I don't know if I've ever seen that before in a debate."

"I think the most important piece of dishonestly from either candidate is Trump's repeated insistence that the pandemic is going away or rounding some sort of turn or corner," Dale added. "This is getting worse and worse and the president keeps saying it's getting better and it's about to vanish." Watch CNN's super-cut of Dale tackling false claims — and incidentally get a recap of some of the debate's key moments — below. Peter Weber

October 23, 2020

CNN's Gary Tuchman watched Thursday's final debate between President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden with 11 uncommitted voters in Davidson, North Carolina. Among these voters, it was not a good night for Trump.

Trump did have one high moment among the undecided voters. His plea for reopening the economy and Biden's case that the coronavirus is hitting the United States, not red states or blue states, "were the highest-rated comments by each candidate, according to our panel here of undecided voters," Tuchman told Wolf Blitzer. "The second-biggest moment" was Biden's closing remarks on what he would say to people who didn't vote for him. The lowest moment? Trump's claim to be "the least racist person in this room."

"Yeah, it wasn't a positive reaction, Wolf, as you saw," Tuchman said. "At the very least, it was a bit presumptuous to say something like that."

When he took a head count, zero of the people said Trump won, nine said Biden was the winner, and two called it a draw. And worse for Trump, seven of them said they are now ready to cast their ballots for Biden, versus none for him.

The four still-undecided voters mostly said they want to see if any more information emerges about either candidate before Nov. 3, but one voter had a very specific event in mind involving the Supreme Court and Trump's nominee for the open seat. "Well, I'm pro-life, so I'd like to see, you know, whether Judge [Amy Coney] Barrett gets on the court," he said. If she does, "I'll probably vote for Biden," because "I think that he is a stronger leader who is more willing to support fair elections and lead both parties more back toward the center and away from extremism." But if she doesn't get on the court, he'll probably choose Trump. Tuchman thanked him for being interesting. Peter Weber

October 23, 2020

Just minutes after President Trump declared during Thursday night's debate that migrant kids separated from their parents are "so well taken care of" inside U.S. facilities, the Lincoln Project released a searing four-second ad combining his words with the wails of children.

This week, lawyers tasked with reuniting migrant kids with their families told a court they haven't been able to track down the parents of 545 children. They were separated under the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy, and when asked about this by moderator Kristen Welker, Trump claimed the government is working to find the parents, but added that many are smuggled into the country by coyotes and when kids are placed in U.S. facilities, they are "so well taken care of."

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden pushed back, saying the children in question were ripped away from their parents, not smugglers, and called the act "criminal." On Twitter, PBS NewsHour reporter Amna Nawaz said that she has "been inside the border processing centers where many kids and families were held. They were under resourced. Crowded. Staff overwhelmed. Groups of young kids crammed into windowless rooms."

The Lincoln Project wasted no time bringing attention to Trump's claim. Their video uses footage from facilities, showing young children wrapped up in mylar blankets inside cages, and the audio is Trump's claim that "they're in facilities that were so clean ... so well taken care of," mixed with the sounds of kids crying. Watch the ad below. Catherine Garcia

October 23, 2020

For what it's worth, Democratic presidential nominee pretty consistently won his final debate against President Trump, according to most reputable snap polls conducted after the Thursday night showdown in Nashville.

There was also "the unscientific CNN North Carolina 'undecided voter' panel" that had "Biden 9, Trump 0, a Draw 2," notes Josh Jordan. But on Fox News, Sean Hannity posted an online poll that found Trump to be the overwhelming victor of the night — as Eric Trump highlighted.

Debates can matter. Trump's performance in his first face-off against Biden was so bad, by the next day Jared Kushner was "imploring friendly media personalities and other allies to level with his father-in-law about the angry and aggressive debate style he had displayed," The Wall Street Journal reports. "Polls would soon show the performance had cost the president support." Trump's snap numbers are actually relatively good after his final, more disciplined debate performance, FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver notes. Trump has now lost all five of his presidential debates, Silver added, and it didn't seem to matter that much in 2016. Peter Weber

October 23, 2020

Pete Buttigieg gave President Trump a quick history lesson during Thursday night's debate.

Moderator Kristen Welker asked both Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden about Black families having to specifically talk with their children about interacting with police. Trump was quick to respond, saying, "Nobody has done more for the Black community than Donald Trump. And if you look, with the exception of Abraham Lincoln ... I'm the least racist person in this room."

Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and one of Biden's rivals during the Democratic primaries, didn't like Trump glossing over more than 150 years of history, and pointed out on Twitter that a president who came before Trump ushered into law some very important legislature. "The Civil Rights Act was signed in 1964 by President Johnson," Buttigieg tweeted. "Show some goddamned respect."

Back in June, Trump claimed that his "administration has done more for the Black community than any president since Abraham Lincoln," touting the passage of criminal justice reform and guaranteed funding for historically Black colleges and universities. Vox's Fabiola Cineas points out that many presidents between Lincoln and Trump have helped Black Americans, whether it's Ulysses S. Grant creating the Department of Justice and pushing to prosecute the Ku Klux Klan or Barack Obama passing the Affordable Care Act, "which has reduced racial disparities in health care." Catherine Garcia

October 23, 2020

The final 2020 presidential debate spent a good deal of time on climate policy, and President Trump added some color with a few out-of-left-field claims. Democratic nominee Joe Biden's climate policy, Trump claimed, was really written by "AOC-plus-three," a reference to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y) and the three other congresswomen in "the Squad."

Under their collective plan, Trump said, "they want to take buildings down because they want to make bigger windows into smaller windows. As far as they're concerned, if you had no window it would be a lovely thing." He continued: "They want to knock down buildings and build new buildings with little, tiny, small widows, and many other things." Biden laughed and said Trump was making stuff up. The fastest-growing industries in America are solar and wind energy, he added, and Trump "thinks wind causes cancer, windmills." Trump did not dispute that, but he did tell Biden, "I know more about wind than you do. It's extremely expensive. Kills all the birds."

The Squad had some fun with Trump's bizarre claim about tiny windows, something not mentioned in their Green New Deal framework, much less Biden's proposals.

But if Trump were really concerned about the fate of the birds, reducing the size of windows would be the best policy short of banning cats. Peter Weber

Opinion
October 23, 2020

The second and final presidential debate was supposed to have a section devoted to national security, and perhaps that's what a few unilluminating questions about North Korea and foreign election meddling were intended to be. Or perhaps, as I first assumed given the topical order, that section was cut for time. Either way, this bare minimum of attention to foreign policy is inexcusable for an examination of the two candidates running to be commander-in-chief in a country addicted to perpetual war.

Our Constitution assigns power to initiate military conflict to Congress, and Congress, as a matter of habit, does its best to abdicate that responsibility in favor of unaccountable executive war-making. The Constitution also gives the president authority to prosecute wars already underway. As it happens, we have several.

The war in Afghanistan is our nation's longest ever, now in its 19th year and long since lost to any sort of American "victory." It was given no substantive attention tonight, nor was it discussed in the first debate.

The war in Iraq was also not addressed. That failed regime change project has cost us about $2 trillion, created the power vacuum that led to the rise of the Islamic State, and has a civilian death toll estimated in the hundreds of thousands. Too boring for a debate, perhaps?

Yemen, where the United States is enabling the world's worst humanitarian crisis, was ignored. So too recent (and in some cases ongoing) U.S. military interventions in Syria, Libya, Somalia, and more than two dozen locations in North and Sub-Saharan Africa.

These are literally matters of war and peace, life and death. They are also matters in which one of these men soon will have considerable discretion to leave or stay the course of two decades of inhumane and counterproductive foreign policy. That discretion requires interrogation. It didn't get it tonight. Bonnie Kristian

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