Trump, Biden Clash on Immigration, COVID … and Abe Lincoln
Trump, Biden Clash on Immigration, COVID…and Abe Lincoln
BU experts assess the final debate of the 2020 presidential campaign
President Donald Trump went on the attack again and former Vice President Joe Biden fought back hard in Thursday night’s final presidential campaign debate, moderated by Kristen Welker of NBC News.
With the November 3 election less than two weeks away, stakes were high for the event organized by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates and telecast live from Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.
We asked three BU faculty experts to assess the candidates’ debate performances:
- Michelle Amazeen, a College of Communications associate professor in the mass communication, advertising, and public relations department, whose research focuses on mediated persuasion and misinformation
- Craig Andrade, School of Public Health associate dean for practice, director of SPH’s Activist Lab, and a former critical care and public health nurse at Boston Medical Center
- Rachel Meade, a College of Arts & Sciences lecturer in political science, who studies why people support populism
Each watched the debate and emailed their answers immediately afterward.
with Michelle Amazeen, Craig Andrade, and Rachel Meade
BU Today: What was your one clear takeaway from the debate?
Amazeen: The candidates have competing visions of reality: Trump based on fantabulous storytelling and Biden based more on seeming pragmatism and checkable facts. I imagine the fact-checkers are extremely busy right now.
Andrade: The president continued a strategy of bullying, deflection, and hyperbole. Vice President Biden had difficulty breaking through and seemed unable to effectively explain clearly what a Biden administration would look like.
Meade: Trump seemed finally to be attempting to return to his 2016 populist messaging, but it’s probably too little, too late. In 2016, he presented himself as someone who knew all the corruption because as a businessperson he was benefiting from it, and thus was the one to know how to fix it. He called back to this appeal when he said, “You are the one who takes all the money from Wall Street,” calling attention to Biden’s large base of Wall Street donors. Trump followed up by saying that he could call up Wall Street guys himself, but he wouldn’t want to be put in that position. Biden on the other hand, while forceful on certain progressive issues like the minimum wage and the need for a stimulus bill, continued to distance himself from the populist left of the party.
How did the decision to mute each candidate during his opponent’s initial two-minute answer affect the debate?
Amazeen: The muting contributed to a much more viewable debate. Trevor Noah predicted that Trump would get around the muting by shouting and even walking over to Biden’s mic, perhaps even licking the mic, too…thankfully, that didn’t transpire. Trump was fairly uninterruptive for the first two-thirds of the debate, but he started to lose his composure and interrupt more in the last third of the debate, talking over the moderator.
Andrade: It simply stopped President Trump from the interruptions that occurred in the previous debate. It also helped both candidates address specific questions focused on policy. Unfortunately, in response to each question truth-talking was hard to find.
Meade: The muting seemed to really help with the overall feel of the debate, and its effects appeared to carry into the rest of the debate. But the more substantive feel is also owing to the really excellent job that the moderator, Kristin Welker, did. Unlike Chris Wallace, she seemed able to maintain control and keep her cool even when candidates continued talking over time, and in contrast to the vice-presidential moderator (USA Today’s Susan Page), she asked a lot of follow-up questions.
The story of the first debate was Trump’s constant combative interruptions. Did the narrative change during this debate?
Amazeen: This debate was more about how each candidate explained the current state of the country. While Biden shared specific anecdotes and many statistics about the state of the world and his policy plans, Trump showed he continues to be a masterful propagandist. He spoke at turns in glittering generalities or bleak predictions that selectively used evidence to support his position. For instance, Trump repeatedly claimed that Biden said he would ban fracking. But Biden pushed back, clarifying that he said he would not allow fracking on federal land, but otherwise would not ban it. But as it turns out, Biden wasn’t entirely accurate on this claim, either.
Andrade: The previous interrupts were curbed due to the monitoring of the microphone. Trump’s interruptions ramped up later in the debate. Most of those interruptions allowed President Trump to stoke fear with words such as “illegal immigrants—a murderer comes in, a rapist comes in…those with the lowest IQ,” “socialized medicine,” “they’ll destroy your Medicaid.”
Meade: Yes, Trump was fairly effective in getting across his message this time. Perhaps some combination of the moderator’s seemingly even-handed approach and the muting contributed to a more controlled performance from him. At one point he actually said that he appreciated how the moderator was handling things, a moment I found quite surprising. I’ll be curious to see if from the perspective of Trump’s supporters, the moderation appeared more fair to them than at previous debates.
Was there a gaffe or blunder that could cost either candidate the White House?
Amazeen: It seemed as if Trump had Biden in a “gotcha” moment when Biden admitted he would transition away from the oil industry and stop subsidizing it. But Biden seemed to provide a justification for his position.
Andrade: President Trump consistently responded with falsehoods and exaggeration on the environment, healthcare, racism, the economy, and foreign affairs, unchecked. That may have turned some voters off and made Biden appear more attractive.
Meade: I don’t think so, though I was initially concerned about Joe Biden’s comments on school reopenings, framed around Boston Public Schools’ recent decision to move virtual. After noting that funding and PPE are needed to make schools safe, he said: “Not that many of you are going to die. Come on.” At the time, I didn’t realize this was an attempt to mock Trump’s earlier stated position on teachers not being easily infected, and, judging from reactions on Twitter, it seems I wasn’t the only one who missed the joke.
Did you gain any new insight or revelation about either candidate?
Amazeen: Voters have a choice between a fantabulous storyteller in Trump or an empathetic pragmatist in Biden. While great storytellers can be very compelling, the devil’s in those pesky details…or lack of them.
Meade: It’s not really a new insight, but I was struck once again by how difficult it is for Trump to not make issues into personal referendums on himself. It was particularly jarring in the race segment—where the opening question explicitly asked for candidates to speak to Black parents who worry about their children—to hear Trump making claims that he is “the most antiracist person in the room” or is the president that had done the most for Black people since Abe Lincoln, which Biden later turned into a pretty effective joke.
Did the candidates’ performance move the needle for either of them?
Amazeen: There are very few persuadable voters left. Biden embraced empathy—often talking directly to the people at home—and pragmatism; Trump continued to embrace conspiracy theories. I suspect both campaigns are happy with each candidate’s performance.
Andrade: The performance of both candidates was consistent with their strategy and messages maintained throughout the campaign. Trump continued to work to paint a rosy picture of his administration’s performance, including on his management of the COVID-19 pandemic. Biden focused on bringing the country together, bringing the pandemic under control, addressing climate change, expanding healthcare, and addressing systemic racism. Ultimately, neither candidate moved the needle. I don’t believe Trump gained any new votes. Biden looked more presidential and more compassionate. He lost no ground.
Meade: Possibly this could help Trump a little bit, simply because he did so much better than last time. But ultimately, I think it’s probably too late to see a big shift from this for his campaign, which is also running out of money right now. Biden performed similarly to how he usually does, and probably also better than last time, in part owing to the more effective debate setup and moderation, but I don’t think it changes anything for him either.
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Donald Trump is dangerous. Vote Biden, and GO TERRIERS!!!
Thank you for presenting this analysis. One point, though, which I would like to make: Vice President Biden’s statement, “‘Not that many teachers are going to die.’ Come on,” was not to be taken at face value or as indicative of his own perspective or position but rather as a criticism of the president’s oft-stated position, which promotes reopening of schools with little to no regard for the risks posed to teachers, staff, and students. Had this comment been in writing, the first part of the sentence would have had clarifying quotes around it. I felt that was evident in Biden’s tone, but out of respect for the commentator and their expertise, I wanted to be sure I’d heard and interpreted correctly. I’m confident that I did, and I hope that this will alleviate Dr. Meade’s concerns regarding this statement. I’ve included two links, one to an EdWeek blog and one to a statement put out last night by the American Federation of Teachers, both of which respond to last night’s debate regarding coronavirus and the reopening of schools. Thank you again to those interviewed for this article and to BU Today for publishing it.
Thanks, Julie. We updated the article and Rachel Meade responded elsewhere in the comments. Here’s what she wrote: “Thanks everyone who raised the concern that I mischaracterized Biden’s comments to teachers. You’ve convinced me that I misunderstood, and you’ll see the article has now been updated to reflect that this was meant as a joke mocking Trump’s position.”
In response to Meade’s concern about Joe Biden’s comment about teachers….you must have taken a quick break and missed Trump’s comment . Trump said not many teachers will die….Biden repeated his statement to mock him about his insensitivity about Covid impact.
Thanks, Truth. We updated the article and Rachel Meade responded elsewhere in the comments. Here’s what she wrote: “Thanks everyone who raised the concern that I mischaracterized Biden’s comments to teachers. You’ve convinced me that I misunderstood, and you’ll see the article has now been updated to reflect that this was meant as a joke mocking Trump’s position.”
I know BU is an extremely progressive liberal institution, our expectation is very low for you, but, as your favorite candidate always says “come on, man!”
Anybody who reads your coverage can see how biased you are (some credits to Meade who tries to be “fair,” but at the end she’s also on board). What about Biden keep lying about fracking? What about oil industry?
WHAT ABOUT HUNTER’S LAPTOP?
Your language is becoming more and more similar to 2016, which only means one thing and one thing only: TRUMP IS GOING TO WIN BY LANDSLIDE!
BU Today, I have a challenge for you: could you please show me one or two story about Trump that you covered fairly and not referring to a Trump-hater media like Buzzfeed?!
Thanks for your comment. Here is one opinion piece we published just a few weeks ago on a key President Trump policy initiative:
Thanks BU Today. However, this story was so good that even New York Times (Friedman) couldn’t ignore!
If you asked me to show stories that you covered President Trump in biased ways, you know I could come up with tens of examples: I actually collected all of your stories on Trump! they are still up on your website!
It’s OK, however. You and your mainstream media friends are now the dominant culture! Trump and his supporters are the new counter-culture!
Way to sign off with ‘God bless’ like it is some kind of damned weapon.
And why do you love Trump so much? He doesn’t care about anyone. He will just throw you under the bus. Vote Biden, dude. Who cares about ‘Hunter’s laptop” when Trump is literally so dangerous that his presidency is costing a massive loss of lives. Not to mention he is a racist in that he literally is xenophobic and uses a lot of slang against Hispanic people and Native American people (me). I actually know someone who works with Trump on a weekly basis and they also say he is a complete selfish maniac. If I were you, I’d drop my political opinion and vote on the basis of safety and security for our country and the beautiful people here like yourself I’m sure. Bottom line is that he is dangerous. “When the looting starts, the shooting stars.”; “Proud boys stand back and stand by.” Look up who the proud boys are. I challenge you to see the other side, my friend.
Meade quoted Biden as saying, “Not that many of you are going to die. Come on.” about teachers in the classroom. I think she lost the message Joe was trying to get across. He was quoting Trump in saying not many teachers will die in the classroom and then in his own comment saying “come on Trump, that’s not true”. I do see where the confusion comes from the way Biden framed this with his sarcasm, but I hope this isn’t the message teachers got as well (my family of teachers included).
Thanks, Megan. We updated the article and Rachel Meade responded elsewhere in the comments. Here’s what she wrote: “Thanks everyone who raised the concern that I mischaracterized Biden’s comments to teachers. You’ve convinced me that I misunderstood, and you’ll see the article has now been updated to reflect that this was meant as a joke mocking Trump’s position.”
Thanks everyone who raised the concern that I mischaracterized Biden’s comments to teachers. You’ve convinced me that I misunderstood, and you’ll see the article has now been updated to reflect that this was meant as a joke mocking Trump’s position.
Readers interested in fact-checking should read this:
It was fun to watch Trump boxed in by the muting measure. It was like watching a balloon slowly being deflated.
As has now become quite commonplace in the BU bubble, the three panelists don’t seem to live in the current reality – and they missed MANY obvious blunders …
One of the panelists actually quotes Trevor Noah … seriously?
Biden steps on a rake when he says that he’s going to transition away from oil, and you think he explained himself? You obviously DON’T know PA, TX or ANYONE in the energy producing states, because fracking is a BIG DEAL, and the Big Guy should’ve known better – because didn’t he spend FIVE DAYS in intense debate prep?
Trump told fantabulous stories, while Biden stayed factual? This may be one of THE most laughable comments – you can’t possibly believe what you’ve said! Are you familiar with the now very famous quote … if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor? He’s all against fracking until he visits PA when he needs to do an about face. He didn’t refer to ‘super-predators’ .. when businesses raise minimum wage they don’t go out of business .. there’s NO evidence that he/his family isn’t corrupt? Joe Biden is a serial LIAR … he didn’t start his education at an HBCU .. he didn’t earn a full scholarship .. he didn’t graduate at the top of his class, AND he routinely plagiarizes the work of others … face it, he’s kind of a fraud.
Come on, man.
Thanks for your comments, Gregs. I wrote that Biden’s visions were based more on “checkable facts.” I did not state that his facts were accurate. I even pointed out that his claim about fracking was *not* accurate.
GregS, you wrote: “Joe Biden is a serial LIAR … face it, he’s kind of a fraud.”
Something that can also indisputably be said about Donald Trump and his entire presidency. Maybe America deserves better than both of these candidates. Maybe America deserves better than two super old white guys who both have a history or lying and corruption. Maybe the two-party duopoly ought to start nominating and giving Americans REAL candidates to choose from. GOOD people and GOOD candidates. Maybe industry lobby, industry money, and any donations ought to be removed from politics.
Seems that those who analyse the debate have their candidate preference, so their analysis are very unprofessional, because its based in their preference
This “analysis” might have been interesting if it wasn’t another BU echo chamber. You do know there are conservatives on this campus. You have bullied them into silence and submission but maybe seek some of them out for their perspective sometime. Is that too much to ask? You claim to support diversity, but you are certainly against diversity of thought.
Conservatives are not submissive; not in their nature. And certainly not silent.
I grew up conservative, and after living abroad for two years, I grew up and saw just how biased and ignorant I once was as a conservative.
Bottom line is that Trump is dangerous, and he doesn’t care about LGBTQ persons, or Black persons, or Native Americans. Think about it. You’re supporting someone who doesn’t care about you. Blind loyalty is what led to Hitler’s enablement in WWII, and it appears to be happening all over again. The fate of the world is in our hands with our votes.
Don’t make voting an issue, people. Please don’t feel like there are two sides here. We are one nation and we should vote to protect ourselves from danger.
Stay well, and please don’t let anyone intimidate you.
The positive message that Trump proclaimed last night and at the RNC is telling: He cares about the patriot who simply wants to live their life the way they want, and will not destroy the country in the process. Further, he supplies ample information proving his claims; something that ought to be replicated everywhere.
Biden’s take? Trump is a bad, xenophobic racist who does not care about the middle class or the environment; despite Trump improving the economy, creating a sustainable economy for green energy, failing to start another war, helping the black community through economic incentives, and shutting America down early to slow the virus’ spread. What has Biden really done for America besides promises? Surely he has had plenty of time in DC to blow Trump away, right? Most of his answers were broad and anecdotal; hardly an admirable example for scholars in a debate.
Please note Trump said “least racist” not “antiracist”. As I’m sure Dr. Kendi would note that’s clearly not the same thing. My guess is Trump has not read Dr. Kendi’s book and unfortunately is not familiar with the term antiracist.