The Shock Of The Normal – Final Presidential Debate

President Donald Trump met with former Vice President Joe Biden for the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election’s final debate. Far from the verbal brawl of Trump and Biden’s first debate, Thursday night presented viewers with a strangely normal, substantive discourse with a clear focus on policy rather than personal attacks.

Both candidates were on their best behavior and refrained from interrupting one another, a practice which was reinforced by the muting of each candidate’s microphone while the other was speaking. For many viewers, who have become accustomed to the explosive drama and internet memes created by previous debates, Thursday night felt like a banal, anticlimactic conclusion to the debate arena in its lack of angry outbursts and belligerence. 

On the whole, President Trump was respectful of the debate format, and for the most part kept his focus on the issues in question rather than attacking Biden. Trump’s goal for this debate was undoubtedly to repair the damage done by his critically poor performance during the first debate, and to reestablish himself as an articulate voice for the Republican Party. In this sense, Trump succeeded.

The major message of his debate performance was to paint himself as an outsider and a break from the norm of out-of-touch politicians, a strategy that has paid off in the past with his voter base. However, the direction of the race has already been established in Biden’s favor, and nothing Trump said Thursday night can be considered significant enough to change that direction. 

For Biden, who has held a consistent lead in the polls since the first debate, the goal of last night’s debate was to continue to present popular viewpoints on policy in relation to the coronavirus, foreign policy, and climate change. He did so, putting Trump on the defensive for much of the first half of the debate in regards to the pandemic, the stalling of economic relief packages, and the separation of immigrant children from their families at the border. Though nothing was particularly new in Biden’s rhetoric, his performance was strong in the priority he placed on American families and political unity. It’s hard to say if there was a clear “winner” of this uneventful debate, but given Biden’s advantage going into it, it’s safe to say that his position in the race is at least as strong as it was before.

At this point, the undecided American voter is something of a political unicorn. Nonetheless, Thursday’s debate presented the most substantive forum so far in terms of presenting each candidate’s policies in a clear and civil way. Trump fell back to his reliable strategy of presenting himself as a realist and the antithesis to established politicians, while Biden continued to preach a message of the restoration of American unity in the midst of unparalleled political division. Overall, the debate cleared a low bar in terms of discussing actual policy but only exacerbated the exhaustion most Americans are feeling in regards to an election everyone is eager to conclude. 

For Times Media Mexico
Kieran Hadley in Idaho