NASHVILLE, Tenn. (NEXSTAR) — President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden met in their final debate Thursday night with just 12 days left until the election.
Quite frankly, it was far more civil and issue-oriented than their first meeting.
Much of the talk leading up to Thursday’s event centered around 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. What we saw Thursday was a calm and restrained Trump who focused more on issues instead of distractions.
The debate, which was moderated by NBC’s Kristen Welker, served as a final chance for each man to make his case to a television audience of tens of millions of voters.
The big question: Did either have the night they needed to sway support from the few undecided voters that remain?
Here are five moments that stood out during Thursday night’s debate:
Muted microphones and civil debate
After viewers of the last presidential debate bemoaned the moderator’s inability to cut off the candidates’ microphones, the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates responded with an announcement this week that each candidate’s microphone will be turned off while his opponent gives a two-minute answer to an initial question on each debate topic.
Clearly, the move worked.
In a contrast to the first debate, the contenders went more than 15 minutes before interrupting each other. For the first time during the election cycle, we heard clear answers both both candidates.
Both Trump and Biden played by the rules allowing for a much more traditional debate.
Trump was described as “far more restrained” and even praised the moderator.
Attacking Biden’s family and pushing corruption claims
The president for months has been making accusations of corruption against Biden and has lately intensified his focus on unverified claims about Biden’s son Hunter — and that continued Thursday night.
Biden argued his son did nothing inappropriate while working for a company in Ukraine and noted Trump was the one who got impeached for dealings with that country.
Trump noted that the former vice president’s son Hunter drew a large salary from a Ukrainian firm. Biden responded that the accusation had been investigated repeatedly and did not link him to any wrongdoing. Biden added that the president was impeached for attempting to pressure the president of Ukraine to find potentially damaging information on the Bidens.
Biden then attempted to turn the question into an attack on Trump, focusing on a recent report in The New York Times that Trump has a bank account in that country.
Trump responded, “I have many bank accounts and they’re all listed and they’re all over the place.” He said that the Chinese account in question was opened in 2015 and closed in 2017, “I believe,” even though it actually appears to still be open.
The former vice president also tried to shift the narrative back towards voters.
“It’s not about his family or my family. It’s about your family,” Biden said.
Earlier this week, Trump called on Attorney General William Barr to immediately launch an investigation into the unverified claims about Biden and his son Hunter.
The president has promoted an unconfirmed New York Post report published last week that cites an email in which an official from Ukrainian gas company Burisma thanked Hunter Biden, who served on the company’s board, for arranging for him to meet Joe Biden during a 2015 visit to Washington. The Biden campaign has rejected Trump’s assertion of wrongdoing and noted that Biden’s schedule did not show a meeting with the Burisma official.
Trump defends separating kids from families
Trump defended his administration’s separation of immigrant children who remain away from their families following detentions along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Trump said that children are often brought across the border not by families but “by coyotes and lots of bad people.”
The American Civil Liberties Union told a judge this week that there were still 545 children separated from their parents from 2018.
Trump said his administration had constructed more than 400 miles of his promised border barrier. He also said, “They built cages,” referring to Obama-era facilities depicted in media reports during the separations.
Biden disputed Trump’s answer, saying kids “were ripped from” their families in 2018.
As he has done since the primary campaign, Biden defended the Obama administration’s immigration policy, admitting that it “took too long to get it right.”
Two tales of a pandemic
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.”
Trump added the country needs to “learn to live with it.”
Biden shot back: “People are learning to die with it.”
The former vice president 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.”
Since the last debate, Trump was diagnosed with and hospitalized for COVID-19. The Republican has cast the virus and his own infection in positive terms, resumed holding large campaign rallies and attacked the government’s top infectious-disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Trump calls himself “least racist person” in debate room
“I am the least racist person in this room,” Trump said in response to a question on his relationship with African Americans and recent comments on the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Nobody has done more for the Black community,” he added.
“Abraham Lincoln here is one of the most racist presidents we’ve had in moment history,” Biden responded. “He pours fuel on every single racist fire.”
The comment was in reference to a previous debate statement from Trump that “nobody has done more for the Black community except for Abraham Lincoln.”
One of the biggest headlines from the first debate was Trump refusing to condemn white supremacists who have supported him. He told one such group known as the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.” Hours later, he went on record condemning white supremacy.
Foreign election interference for whom?
Trump and Biden both argued interference in this year’s election is in an effort to cost their respective campaigns the upcoming election.
Biden said any country that interferes in American elections will pay a price if he’s elected, saying, “They are interfering with American sovereignty.”
U.S. officials have reported that Russian hackers have targeted the networks of dozens of state and local governments in the United States in recent days, stealing data from at least two servers. Officials are also accusing Iran of being behind a flurry of emails sent to Democratic voters in multiple battleground states that appeared to be aimed at intimidating them into voting for Trump.
Trump said that nobody has been tougher on Russia through sanctions and pushing for increased military spending by NATO.
Final debates often play an outsized role in electoral outcomes. But Thursday night’s showdown was different from those past.
More than 42 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.