Biden and Trump Offer Sharply Different Visions for US

President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. delivered starkly divergent closing arguments to the country in the final presidential debate on Thursday, offering opposite prognoses for the coronavirus pandemic and airing irreconcilable differences on subjects from rescuing the economy and bolstering the health care system to fighting climate change and reshaping the immigration policy.
The debate was, on the whole, a more restrained affair than the first encounter between the two candidates last month, when Mr. Trump harangued Mr. Biden for most of an hour and a half and effectively short-circuited any policy debate. But if the tenor of Thursday’s forum was more sedate, the conflict in matters of substance and vision could not have been more dramatic.
From the opening minutes, the two candidates took opposing stances on the pandemic, with Mr. Trump promising, in defiance of evidence, that the disease was “going away” while Mr. Biden called for much more aggressive federal action for the “dark winter” ahead.
Mr. Trump, who badgered Mr. Biden with increasing aggression over the course of the debate, appeared determined to cast his opponent as a career politician who was, as he jabbed toward the end of the debate, “all talk and no action.” And the president used the event as his most prominent platform yet for airing unsubstantiated or baseless attacks about the finances of Mr. Biden and members of his family.
Mr. Trump, however, did little to lay out an affirmative case for his own re-election, or to explain in clear terms what he would hope to do with another four years in the White House. He frequently misrepresented the facts of his own record, and Mr. Biden’s. And on his most important political vulnerability — his mismanagement of the pandemic — Mr. Trump hewed unswervingly to a message that happy days are nearly here again, even as polls show that a majority of voters believe the worst of the coronavirus crisis is still ahead.
Trailing in a series of crucial swing states, and with 48 million Americans having already voted, the president was under more pressure. But while he proved he can engage in a more conventional political jousting, it was less clear whether his performance could prompt people who dislike him to reconsider their well-ingrained perceptions.
Mr. Biden, for his part, stuck to the core of the argument that has propelled his campaign from the start, denouncing Mr. Trump as a divisive and unethical leader who has botched the federal response to a devastating public-health crisis. Though Mr. Trump pushed him onto the defensive repeatedly, the former vice president also laid out a fuller version of his own policy agenda than he managed in the first debate, calling for large-scale economic stimulus spending, new aid to states battling the pandemic and a muscular expansion of health care and worker benefits nationwide.
Significantly, Mr. Biden made no serious error of the sort that could haunt him in the final days of a race in which he’s leading.
Of all the disagreements between the two candidates, none blazed more brightly than their assessments of the American experience battling the coronavirus.
Prompted by the moderator, Kristen Welker of NBC News, to explain his plan for the coming months, Mr. Trump stuck to the sunny message he has delivered at recent campaign rallies, promising a vaccine in short order and citing his own recovery from a bout with the virus as an example of medical progress. The president boasted that he was now “immune” to the disease, and insisted that states like Texas and Florida had seen the virus fade away, even as case counts are on the rise across the country.
“I’ve been congratulated by the heads of many countries on what we’ve been able to do,” Mr. Trump said, without offering any specifics.
Mr. Biden, in response, pressed a focused and familiar line of attack against the president, faulting him for doing “virtually nothing” to head off the pandemic early this year and heading into the coldest part of the year with no defined plan to control the virus. Holding up a face mask, Mr. Biden said he would encourage all Americans to don them and would ramp up rapid testing on a national scale.
“We’re about to go into a dark winter, a dark winter, and he has no clear plan,” Mr. Biden said. Mr. Trump shot back: “I don’t think we’re going to have a dark winter at all — we’re opening up our country.”
But when the president said “we’re learning to live with” the coronavirus, Mr. Biden pounced. “We’re learning to die with it,” he said.
“Anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America,” he said. “I will end this. I will make sure we have a plan.”
The president did, however, say for the first time, “I take full responsibility” for the impact of the virus. Then he quickly sought to skirt blame. “It’s not my fault that it came here — it’s China’s fault,” he said.
The debate on Thursday, at Belmont University in Nashville, represented perhaps the last opportunity for Mr. Trump to shake up the presidential campaign and claw his way into closer contention against Mr. Biden with just 11 days remaining. /The New York Times, October 23, 2020