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Final Trump-Biden debate finally provides clarity on the issues

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at the final presidential debate at Belmont University on Oct. 22, 2020 in Nashville, Tenn.
President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at the final presidential debate at Belmont University on Oct. 22, 2020 in Nashville, Tenn.Jim Bourg / Pool via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Fewer insults. Fewer interruptions. And a lot less name-calling.

Unlike the first presidential debate, last night’s second — and final — showdown perfectly distilled the presidential candidates’ positions on the most important issues, giving voters some important clarity.

President Trump on the coronavirus: “There was a very big spike in Texas, it's now gone. There was a very big spike in Arizona, it's now gone. And there are some spikes and surges in other places. They will soon be gone. We have a vaccine that's coming, it's ready, it's going to be announced within weeks and it's going to be delivered.”

Joe Biden on the coronavirus: “The expectation is we'll have another 200,000 Americans dead between now and the end of the year. If we just wore these masks, the president's own advisers have told him, we could save 100,000 lives. And we're in a circumstance where the president thus far and still has no plan. No comprehensive plan. What I would do is make sure we have everyone encouraged to wear a mask all the time.”

Trump on health care: “What we'd like to do [on Obamacare] is terminate it. We have the individual mandate, done. I don't know that it's going to work. If we don't win, we will have to run it and we'll have Obamacare but it'll be better run. But it no longer is Obamacare, because without the individual mandate it's much different. Pre-existing conditions will always stay. What I would like to do is a much better healthcare — much better.”

Biden on health care: “What I'm going to do is pass Obamacare with a public option, become Bidencare… Secondly, we're going to make sure we reduce the premiums and reduce drug prices by making sure that there's competition that doesn't exist now by allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices with the insurance companies.

Trump on immigration: “Catch-and-release is a disaster. A murderer would come in; a rapist would come in; a very bad person would come in. We would take their name. We have to release them into our country. And then you say they come back. Less than 1 percent of the people come back.”

Biden on immigration: “I've made it very clear within 100 days I'm going to send to the United States Congress a pathway to citizenship for over 11 million undocumented people, and all of those so-called Dreamers, those DACA kids, they're going to be immediately certified again to be able to stay in this country and put on a path to citizenship.”

Trump on personal foreign entanglements: “But you were getting a lot of money from Russia, they were paying you a lot of money, and they probably still are. But now, with what came out today, it's even worse. All of the e-mails, the e-mails, the horrible emails of the kind of money that you were raking in, you and your family.”

Biden on personal foreign entanglements: “I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life. We learned that this president paid 50 times the tax in China, has a secret bank account with China, does business in China, and in fact is talking about me taking money? I have not taken a single penny from any country whatsoever.”

Trump on race: “Nobody has done more for the black community than Donald Trump, and if you look with the exception of Abraham Lincoln - possible exception, but the exception of Abraham Lincoln, nobody has done what I've done. Criminal justice reform, Obama and Joe didn't do it.”

Biden on race: “The fact of the matter is, there is institutional racism in America. And we have always said — we've never lived up to it — that ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident, all men and women are created equal.’ But guess what? We have never, ever lived up to it. But we've constantly been moving the needle further and further to inclusion, not exclusion. This is the first president to come along and says, ‘That's the end of that. We're not going to do that anymore.’”

Other post-debate thoughts

If you’re a Republican, last night’s more normal debate probably stopped the bleeding from the first one, which is good news for GOP Senate candidates like Dan Sullivan (in Alaska), Roger Marshall (in Kansas) and John Cornyn (in Texas).

If you’re a Democrat, you’re pleased that Biden came out ahead in the credible insta-polls.

Biden’s oil comment gave some ammunition to the GOP.

And we are now 11 days out — or one Scaramucci away — from Election Day.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

8,456,088: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 77,322 more than yesterday morning.)

224,280: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 920 more than yesterday morning.)

128.96 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

42,250,954: The number of Americans who have voted early, either by mail or in person, according to NBC and TargetSmart

2020 Vision: A reminder that a lot can happen in 11 days

We are 11 days out until Election Day — which just happens to be the four-year anniversary of the Comey letter, which upended the 2016 race.

It’s a reminder that news bombshells can influence a race, and that the unexpected can happen in politics.

Still, what’s been remarkable about 2020 is that despite all of the big news and events (a pandemic, racial protests, an ugly debate and the president getting Covid-19), this race has remained remarkably stable.

At least for now.

On the campaign trail

Today: The day after the debate, Trump stumps in Florida, holding rallies in The Villages and Pensacola. Biden delivers remarks on fighting Covid-19 from Delaware. Mike Pence hits Ohio and Pennsylvania. Kamala Harris campaigns in Georgia.

Saturday: Trump travels to Ohio and Wisconsin. Joe and Jill Biden hit Bucks and Luzerne counties in Pennsylvania. Kamala Harris is in Cleveland. Barack Obama campaigns for Biden in Miami.

The closing messages

Trump and Biden delivered their closing messages in last night’s debate — in the form of what they’d say in their inaugural address.

When asked by NBC’s Kristen Welker what they’d say to Americans on Jan. 20 who didn't vote for them, the two candidates offered vastly different messages.

Here was Trump: “We have to make our country totally successful as it was prior to the plague coming in from China. Now we’re rebuilding it and we’re doing record numbers.”

He added, “Success is going to bring us together.”

And here was Biden: “I will say, I’m an American president, I represent all of you, whether you voted for me or against me. And I’m going to make sure that you’re represented.”

Ad Watch from Ben Kamisar

Biden and Trump also released two new ads during last night’s debate that typify key parts of their strategies down the stretch.

The new Trump spot never mentions the president outside of the mandated “stand by your ad” and “paid for by” tags. Instead, the ad spends its entire 30 seconds attacking Biden on his controversial comment that “you ain’t black” if they support Trump, as well as the 90s crime bill and his rhetoric around it.

And the Biden campaign launched an ad featuring a bartender talking about the struggles of workers during the pandemic, arguing his policies have not gotten the virus under the control enough to stimulate the economy.

The Lid: Early and often

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald looked at the wild early-vote numbers and what it means for the 2020 race.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Here are Shannon Pettypiece’s four takeaways from the debate.

Here’s what was true and what wasn’t from last night’s debate.

Dan Balz says that Trump brought a changed game to Nashville, but it’s unlikely to change the race.

Top intelligence officials say Russia is a bigger foreign threat to the election than Iran.

Here’s the latest in the fight over when to count ballots in North Carolina.

Here’s how online posters are trying to “Pizzagate” Hunter Biden.

Some Senate Republicans aren’t happy with Steve Mnuchin.

More than 300 military families have signed a letter in support of Biden.

Trump says he will vote in person on Saturday in Florida.

The New York Times checks in on the Maine Senate race.