Breaking down Trump and Biden’s latest presidential debate: NPR

As the election draws near, we discuss the implications of this week’s debate between President Trump and Joe Biden.


Ten days before the end of the most controversial presidential election in recent memory – perhaps. Of course, millions of Americans have already voted. The two candidates met this week for a debate that, at times, actually looked like it. We’re now joined by Ron Elving of NPR. Ron, thank you very much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Nice to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Debate # 2 – maybe less to talk about because it was a bit more civil, would you say?

ELVING: A little more, more than a little. It reminded us a bit of a presidential debate or what they were once meant to be. It probably didn’t change my mind much. But for those who were still undecided, there was some background information to be had with impressions and exaggerations and, of course, outright lies. It was probably the last opportunity for either of these two candidates to address a national audience before election day. And let’s not forget that some 50 million Americans have already voted. And that’s maybe only a third of the record total votes we expect to see by the end of this process. It is estimated that the turnout will be the highest in over a century.

SIMON: And how are these two candidates going to spend these precious few days until November 3?

ELVING: You know, Joe Biden is going to hit the key states of Florida and Pennsylvania. This is where he is today. He will be wearing his mask, hosting pandemic style events as we have seen. He also has former President Obama there. We saw it last week. He was in Pennsylvania. And he’s out there on the line rallying the Democrats.

Meanwhile, on the other side, the president is locked in a series of frenzied rallies in his next few days – five this weekend alone. And despite the pandemic, his often maskless crowds can be expected to gather to hear him. Just today, I saw a poll from Pew Research that says only 1 in 4 Trump voters think COVID is even a significant voting problem.

These events therefore show the enthusiasm of Trump’s most fervent supporters. And he believes they are showing him as a winner. Here we have this 74-year-old man who has just recovered from COVID. He’s out there playing, tapping into whatever power source he can have, projecting his closing message, a victory over the virus. He says we’ve turned the corner. He says it’s going away. But, Scott, 1,000 Americans have died from COVID on the day of this debate. And yesterday we had 85,000 new cases – a new single-day record.

SIMON: And, Ron, still no new relief bill for those suffering from the pandemic. Do both parties think there is some sort of political advantage they can gain by not adopting something before election day?

ELVING: It’s less about presidential campaigns and more about Congress, where there is a mixture of principle and icy electoral calculus here. Lots of Democrats want a big relief package, and they think skinny is counterproductive. And they want to help cities and states that are going bankrupt right now. Generally, Republicans oppose it. But Republicans, especially in the Senate, are divided on what to do right now. At least half of Republicans in the Senate think we need to stop. Let’s look at the numbers. They point out that last year’s federal budget just ended with a record $ 3 trillion – $ 3 trillion – in the red. That’s a lot of new debt in a year. You know, when Ronald Reagan ran for president in 1980, he called it a major scandal that the federal debt, ranging from George Washington to Ronald Reagan, was approaching $ 1 trillion. Well, we now have $ 3 trillion in new debt in just 12 months.

SIMON: Let me follow up on something you said earlier, Ron. Projections, if focused, show that this could be the highest turnout in over a century.

ELVING: That’s right. 1908 was the highest turnout. And, of course, since then the franchise has grown significantly. Just over a century ago, we added women to the list of qualified voters in America. And then of course about 50 years ago we added 18 year olds. So it’s a much, much bigger group of people. So when we have a participation rate as high as in 1908, it will blow up the doors and make 150 million people.

SIMON: Well, Ron Elving from NPR, thank you very much for being with us. We have a lot to look forward to, don’t we?

ELVING: Yes, we do. And thank you, Scott.

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