The second and last US presidential debate of 2020 saw President Donald Trump tone down the tantrums as moderator Kristen Welker (mostly) very sternly reined him in. Trump was, however, bang on trend for being fudgy on facts.
Donald Trump on Thursday night was slightly less vocal (for him) than during the first 2020 presidential election debate. It will also come as no surprise that despite the strong moderator, Trump got the most speaking time during the debate – around three minutes more than Joe Biden.
Totally in character, both men made their first appearance showing their attitudes toward Covid-19, with Trump walking on stage without a mask, while Biden wore a black mask which he removed as he took up his position.
Fact-checkers from various media organisations were very quick to show up inaccuracies as they arose. And they came up fast and right away as Trump responded to the first question which was “How would you lead the country during the next phase of the coronavirus crisis?”
He spoke of the spikes in the Europe, and that there were spikes in the US but they would soon be gone, before saying:
“We have a vaccine that’s coming. It’s ready, it’s going to be announced within weeks and it’s going to be delivered. We have operation warp speed which is the military is going to distribute the vaccine – I was in the hospital, I had it… and now they say I’m immune whether it’s four months or a lifetime, no one has been able to say… this is a worldwide problem… we’re rounding the corner, it’s going away”.
However, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved any vaccine for emergency use, and when asked which companies were working on the vaccine, Trump responded: “Johnson & Johnson is doing very well, Moderna is doing very well, Pfizer is doing very well. And we have numerous others…”
The fact is Johnson & Johnson paused their experimental vaccine trial on 12 October after a volunteer fell ill and have not yet restarted nor announced any restart date. Both Pfizer and Moderna have yet to apply for emergency use authorisation.
Trump also insisted that to save the economy, businesses should be open and that asking restaurants to use plexiglass shields was expensive. He said New York was a ghost town because of all the Covid-19 safety regulations. New Yorkers immediately took to Twitter to show that this was pure fiction.
Trump: “New York City is a hell scape.” New York City: pic.twitter.com/OS2KE64pfS
— Kristen Meinzer (@kristenmeinzer) October 23, 2020
True to form, the American president continued with personal attacks against Joe Biden, saying Biden owns many houses. This is false; Biden owns two homes, one purchased in the 1990s for less than $400,000 and one purchased in 2017 for slightly more than $2-million.
Trump also accused Biden of getting money from Russia: “You got three million dollars…there has been nobody tougher on Russia than Donald Trump… you were getting a lot of money from Russia.. you probably still are…” a clear reference to allegations that the wife of the mayor of Moscow had given $3,5-million to Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.
Biden responded by urging Trump to release his tax returns: “I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life… This president has a secret bank account in China… I have released all of my tax returns… you have not released a single solitary year of your tax returns, what are you hiding? Release your tax returns or stop talking about corruption.”
Trump said he had spoken to his accountants after “people were saying $750 (Trump paid $750 in federal taxes in 2017), I asked them [his accountants] a week ago, I said, what did I pay? They said ‘sir, you prepaid tens of millions of dollars. I prepaid my tax over the last number of years, tens of millions of dollars… so I already prepaid that… they keep talking about $750, which I think is a filing fee”.
When asked by moderator Kristen Welker when he would release his taxes, Trump replied by talking but not actually answering: “I get treated very badly by the IRS, very unfairly…” and said he wanted to release it but there was a deal in place and he had prepaid his taxes.
On health, Trump derided Obamacare saying: “Obamacare is no good… here’s the problem, no matter how well you run it, it’s no good… so I’d like to terminate Obamacare, come up with a better healthcare, always protecting people with existing [conditions].” Trump has been working on this replacement health plan for years and it is yet to materialise.
While Biden says he plans to build on Obamacare, “we are going to make sure we reduce the premiums and reduce drug prices… there is no way he [Trump] can protect pre-existing conditions… Healthcare is not a privilege, it’s a right, everyone should have the right to have affordable healthcare… This is something [Biden’s health plan] that is going to save people’s lives”.
On the issue of over 500 children who were separated from their parents at the border, and whose parents the US are unable to locate, Trump tried to blame Biden and gangs: “Children are brought here by coyotes and lots of bad people, cartels, and they use them to get into this country… you know they used to say I built the cages… that was him [pointing at Biden]”.
“Coyotes” is the term used for people who smuggle people across the US border. Human smugglers are not to be confused with human traffickers.
When pushed on how they will reunite these children with their parents, Trump said “yes, we’re trying very hard”.
Biden was outraged and pushed back hard, as he had for most of the debate:
“These 500+ kids came with parents, they separated them at the border to make it a disincentive to come… Coyotes didn’t bring them over, their parents were with them, they got separated from their parents and it makes us a laughing stock and violates every notion of who we are as a nation… They ripped those kids from their parents”.
On race in America, Biden said he understood why black Americans feared for their children and had to have “the talk” with them: “I never had to tell my daughter if she’s pulled over… put both hands on top of the wheel and don’t reach for the glove box because someone may shoot you. But a black parent, no matter how wealthy or how poor they are, has to teach their child… don’t have a hoodie on… if you get pulled over, yes sir, no sir, hands on top of the wheel… because you are in fact a victim whether you the child of a [rich parent] or someone on food stamps… the fact of the matter is there is institutional racism in America.”
Trump first tried to throw shade at Biden before saying: “Nobody has done more for the black community than Donald Trump… with the exception of Abraham Lincoln, possible exception… Criminal justice reform… biggest beneficiaries, the black and Hispanic communities… they like me and I like them…”
Trump also dropped what was possibly the biggest clanger of the night: “I am the least racist person in this room.”
With 47 664 552 early votes already cast via in person or mail in voting, many snap polls show that Americans believe that Joe Biden won this debate.
While Trump, in the words of CNN’s Jake Tapper, “lie(d) like Pinocchio.” DM
An Wentzel is Night Editor and specialist reporter for Daily Maverick. She went to the USA to visit family as the pandemic struck and is currently marooned in the land of the “free”.