Muted Trump tries to shift gear in final debate

Josephine Tovey
·6 min read
<span>Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Welcome to today’s US election briefing for Australia.

Donald Trump’s campaign railed against the introduction of a mute button at the final debate of the campaign, but it proved to be a gift for the president. Clearly concerned about poll numbers showing falling support among suburban women and seniors, Trump turned in a relatively restrained performance, an effort aided by his inability to heckle and interrupt his opponent as he did during his first outing. It is always strange to see a grown man, the actual US president no less, making headlines just for using his “inside voice”, but here we are.

There were still legions of exaggerations and mistruths, including the assertion that the US was “rounding the turn” on Covid and that a vaccine was “mere weeks away”. There was revolting dogwhistling about race, including a comment that only undocumented immigrants with “the lowest IQs” showed up for court hearings. And there was baseless dirt-flinging at his opponent related to his son’s business dealings.

But Trump also laid out arguments that have proved effective for him in the past, portraying his opponent as a career politician who has had decades to achieve his goals.

Biden got in some strong lines of his own, particularly on the coronavirus. “He says we’re learning to live with it. People are learning to die with it,” he said, in a more accurate reflection of current Covid trends in the US. He accused Trump of pouring fuel “on every single racist fire” and drew contrast between his and his opponent’s character: “you know who I am, you know who he is”.

But he also flubbed some lines, and veered into a vague jag at the end about transitioning away from the oil industry to renewables, which Trump pounced on as the former vice president wanting to “destroy the oil industry”. Tellingly, a Democratic congresswoman in oil-heavy Oklahoma quickly disavowed Biden’s comment. Expect fear-mongering about the economic impact of Biden’s climate policies to ramp up in the final 11 days of the campaign. You can read our full report on the debate here.

Several snap polls gave the debate to Biden, though interviews with undecided voters by pollster Frank Luntz suggested Trump’s tactics may have paid off. The group described Biden as “vague” and “elusive”; they described Trump as “poised” and “surprisingly presidential”.

Trump is never going to change, but he gave a decent impression of it. He needed this more muted performance to help him sweep up some of those undecided voters heading into the final stretch.

Biden is hoping voters already know exactly who Trump is, and will, in the words of Stephen Colbert, “hit the ultimate mute button” on 3 November.

The big stories

Protesters with the &#x002018;Handmaids Brigade&#x002019; march outside the US Capitol after a hearing held by the senate judiciary committee to vote on the nomination of judge Amy Coney Barrett.
Protesters with the ‘Handmaids Brigade’ march outside the US Capitol after a hearing held by the senate judiciary committee to vote on the nomination of judge Amy Coney Barrett. Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Republicans on the Senate judiciary committee voted unilaterally Thursday to advance Amy Coney Barrett’s supreme court nomination to the full Senate despite Democrats’ refusal to sit in the hearing room for what they called a naked “power grab”.

Biden has confirmed he would appoint a special commission to study the US court system over 180 days, if elected, to provide reform recommendations relating to the supreme court and beyond. He had been under pressure to clarify his position on “court packing”, or increasing the number of justices on the bench.

Trump leaked his own unedited TV interview with the US version of 60 Minutes on Facebook ahead of the show’s Sunday broadcast. The president tweeted, “Look at the bias, hatred and rudeness” of his interviewer.

Trump’s Twitter account was allegedly hacked last week, after a Dutch researcher correctly guessed the president’s password: “maga2020!”, Dutch media reported.

The US signed an anti-abortion declaration with a group of about 30 largely illiberal or authoritarian governments, after the failure of an effort to expand the conservative coalition.

Quote of the day

“I take full responsibility. It’s not my fault that it came here. It’s China’s fault.”

An impressive rhetorical 180 from Trump during the debate, responding to the assertion he has not taken responsibility for the Covid crisis.

Election view

Joe Biden speaks during the final presidential debate.
Joe Biden speaks during the final presidential debate. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

“Sorely lacking was the sense that either of these men have bold ideas to respond to the biggest social justice movement in US history and a transformative plan to help people recover from the health and economic impacts of a pandemic,” says Malaika Jabali, one of four Guardian panellists offering their immediate view on the debate in this panel.

“Trump promised to rebuild the huge steel-producing factories that once dotted the banks of the Mahoning River, and to bolster the American automobile industry that was a mainstay of the region’s economy for more than 50 years,” writes Bertram de Souza, a journalist from Youngstown, Ohio. “Trump lied to the people of the Mahoning Valley.”

Video of the day

Here’s the video Trump released of his 60 Minutes interview ahead of their broadcast. It hardly paints him in a good light, but releasing it may blunt ratings for the actual broadcast, which would likely provide context for his mistruths.

Around the web

The Wall Street Journal reports corporate records show Biden played no role in a proposed venture of his son Hunter in China, despite claims from a former business associate of the younger Biden, who appeared in a press conference organised by the Trump campaign before the debate. The report also quotes another associate involved in the venture who said he was not aware of any involvement by the former VP.

Bernie Sanders is hoping to be part of Biden’s potential administration and has expressed a particular interest in becoming Labor secretary, sources have told Politico. Expect that news to inspire hope and horror, depending on your views on Bernie.

Despite complaining about Twitter and Facebook silencing him, Trump has massively widened his social media engagement lead over Biden, according to this NYT report.

And here’s that moment from the new Borat movie that caused so much consternation, in which Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani was unknowingly filmed in a hotel room.

What the numbers say: 1,038

The number of Americans who died of Covid in the last 24 hours, the highest figure since late September.

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