I watched the debate last night and it was much better than the first one simply because it could not have got worse. Believe it or not, for the most part Trump did tone it down as his advisers had promised. He did not interrupt Joe Biden as much though he did refuse to listen to the moderator when she tried to limit the length of his responses. What he did as usual was to reel off lies, make up stuff, and refuse to answer some questions, and keep veering off into accusing Joe Biden and his family of getting payments from foreign governments.
Biden got in some good shots at Trump for not having any plan to replace Obamacare and for being utterly callous about the suffering of so many people due to covid-19.
I thought the starkest difference between the two was when they were asked about institutional racism.
Both candidates were asked to speak directly to the black and brown Americans about racism in American. Biden said plainly that institutional racism exists and that combatting racial inequality would be a priority of his administration. Trump, ignoring the prompt, assailed his opponent and then claimed once again that he had done more for African Americans than any president since Abraham Lincoln.
Scoffing at the notion that Trump would liken himself to Lincoln, Biden said Trump was “one of the most racist presidents we’ve had in modern history” and “pours fuel on every single racist fire”.
I do not know if any presidential candidate of a major party, at least within the last century, has been flatly accused by a rival candidate of being not just racist but one of the most racist in modern history. It shows how far we have sunk that I suspect that millions of people reacted just like me, not in shock but just nodded and thought, “Yeah, that sounds right.”
Another difference that came up multiple times was that Trump would attack cities and states that he said were controlled by Democrats while Biden repeatedly said that he would be the president of everyone, not just of the people who voted for him. Even in the final minutes they were given for saying what they would say on inauguration day, Trump went off on some attack lines while Biden repeated that he was going to work for the benefit of everyone.
It was clear that Biden’s goal was to portray himself as the empathetic unifier who will bring peace and stability to the country, in contrast to the divisiveness of Trump.
So while the debate was definitely better, I am not sure that either party can claim a clear victory. Each candidate’s supporters will find things they like that their candidate did. So it will likely not ‘move the needle’ to use a cliché favored by the pundit class.