US election debate: Donald Trump sticks to lies and conspiracy theories

Though the US president interrupted far less than in the first debate, he was even more misleading. 

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

"I take full responsibility. It's not my fault," said President Donald Trump on 22 October, the night of the last presidential debate.

Trump, it should be said, interrupted far less than he did in the first debate, and was calmer than he was in his town hall, which was somehow only last week. He also, however, largely stuck to conspiracy theories and lies about Joe Biden's family and his time as vice president. He claimed that he saved millions of lives with his handling of the coronavirus pandemic despite the hundreds of thousands dead. He claimed victory in the American relationship with North Korea despite the growing nuclear threat. He said that the children separated from their parents were kept in clean facilities, which is likely cold comfort to the 545 children whose parents the US government cannot now track down. He said he had done more for black Americans than anyone except for maybe Abraham Lincoln, who came up a truly startling amout for somehow who has been deceased for 155 years. "From a lying perspective," CNN fact checker Daniel Dale tweeted, "Trump is even worse tonight than in the first debate."

Joe Biden, too, was himself. There were earnest appeals to the camera about working class families and how there are no red states or blue states, just American states. There was the statement with conviction that he, not other primary candidates who ran further to the left, is the Democratic candidate for president. There was an unnecessary reference to Adolf Hitler (of Trump getting along with North Korea's Kim Jong Un, Biden said that the United States got along with Hitler until it didn't). He said that he wants to get rid of subsidies for the oil industry, to which Trump said, "Do you hear that, Texas?" There were impassioned pleas to remember that this election will decide the character of this nation. Biden stayed on message: Trump botched the response to the coronavirus pandemic and families are hurting, but we can be the kind of country we want to be if we elect Biden. 

Perhaps the only remarkable element of the night is that moderator Kristen Welker, a NBC reporter smeared by some on the right as being a biased political operative ahead of the debate, did a genuinely good job keeping the candidates in check, though that the microphones were muted at some points probably helped. But at this point, it is unsurprising that neither of the candidates suprised us. "You know who I am. You know who he is," Biden said at one point. Trump responded by listing countries, alleging that Biden was entangled in undefined corruption in each one. So it went. So it will go.

"Election day is November 3," Welker said at the end. "Don't forget to vote." What else was there to say?

Emily Tamkin is the New Statesman’s US editor

Free trial CSS