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Radio hosts react to final Trump-Biden debate

U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participate in the final presidential debate at Belmont University on Oct. 22, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee. This is the last debate between the two candidates before the Nov. 3 election. (Photo by Jim Bourg-Pool/Getty Images)

In their final debate before the presidential election, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden offered sharply different visions of how to handle the surging pandemic, with the incumbent declaring that the virus will go away and his challenger warning that the nation was heading toward “a dark winter.”

After a first debate defined by angry interruptions, the Thursday event featured a mostly milder tone. In an effort to curtail interruptions, the Commission on Presidential Debates had announced that Trump and Biden would each have his microphone cut off while his rival delivered an opening two-minute answer to each of six debate topics.

The mute button was not used in the open discussion portion of the debate.

Follow live reactions from the talk hosts on Twitter as they were watching Trump and Biden on Thursday night:

The night in Nashville opened with a clash over the president’s handling of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 225,000 Americans and cost millions of jobs. Polling suggests it is the campaign’s defining issue for voters, and Biden declared, “Anyone responsible for that many deaths should not remain President of the United States of America.”

Trump defended his management of the nation’s most deadly health crisis in a century, dismissing Biden’s warning that the nation had a dire stretch ahead due to spikes in infections. And he promised that a vaccine would be ready in weeks.

“It will go away,” said Trump, staying with his optimistic assessment of the pandemic. “We’re rounding the turn. We’re rounding the corner. It’s going away.”

“We can’t keep this country closed. This is a massive country with a massive economy,” Trump said. “There’s depression, alcohol, drugs at a level nobody’s ever seen before. The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself.”

But Biden vowed that his administration would defer to the scientists and said that Trump’s divisive approach hindered the nation’s response.

“I don’t look at this in 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 a spike in he coronavirus — they’re the red states.”

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.

Final debates often play an outsized role in electoral outcomes. But Thursday night’s showdown was different from those past.

More than 47 million people have already cast their ballots as part of a pandemic-era rise in early voting. In an election dominated by a polarizing president, far fewer undecided voters remain than at this point in 2016.

In a visual reminder of the pandemic that has rewritten the norms of American society and fundamentally changed the campaign, sheets of plexiglass had been installed onstage Wednesday between the two men. But in the hours before the debate, they were removed.

The debate, moderated by NBC’s Kristen Welker, was a final chance for each man to make his case to a television audience of tens of millions of voters. And questions swirled beforehand as to how Trump, whose hectoring performance at the first debate was viewed by aides as a mistake that turned off viewers, would perform amid a stretch of the campaign in which he has taken angry aim at the news media and unleashed deeply personal attacks on Biden and his adult son.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report. Lemire reported from Washington, Price from Las Vegas. Additional reporting from Steve Peoples in Nashville, Bill Barrow in Atlanta, Alexandra Jaffe, Stephen Braun and Zeke Miller in Washington and Aamer Madhani in Chicago.

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