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Washington: For all his boasting and bravado, Donald Trump that has shown he can recognise and learn from his mistakes.
Trump's performance in the second presidential debate was significantly less belligerent and more strategic than his disastrous first performance last month. He wisely refrained from constantly interrupting Biden and attacking the moderator, self-destructive behaviour that sent his poll numbers crashing after the first debate.
Donald Trump and Joe Biden during the final presidential debate. Credit:AP
A telling exchange came when Trump went after Biden over his son Hunter's business dealings in China and Ukraine.
Aware this line of attack was coming, Biden turned the issue to Trump's failure to release his tax returns, saying: "Release your tax returns or stop talking about corruption."
Speaking directly to the camera, Biden said: "It is not about his family and my family. It is about your family. And your family is hurting badly."
'It is not about his family and my family. It is about your family.'
Trump dismissed Biden's answer as the scripted remarks of a veteran Washington insider.
"I'm not a typical politician," Trump said. "That's why I got elected."
He was also quick to seize upon Biden saying that he wanted to transition away from the oil industry, a snippet Republicans are sure to feature in their attack ads in energy-producing states such as Texas and Pennsylvania.
The debate began with a lengthy section on the coronavirus, an issue that remains a big weakness for Trump. Seven months after the pandemic began, 1000 Americans are still dying a day from COVID-19.
"Anyone who is responsible for that many deaths should not remain as President of the United States of America," Biden said. He delivered an effective line in response to Trump's claim that Americans were learning to live with the virus.
"Learning to live with it?' Biden asked. "Come on, we're dying with it."
Biden also benefited from a section on raising the minimum wage. The Democratic nominee wants to increase it to $US15 ($21) an hour – an overwhelmingly popular idea with American voters – but Trump could not commit to doing so, citing concerns about the impact on business profits.
After pulling out of the second debate, this was Trump's last chance to make an impression in front of a big national audience before November 3. Almost 50 million Americans have already voted and just 11 days remain until the election. Biden is leading by an average of eight points in the polls.
Trump is rapidly running out of time to change the trajectory of what has been a remarkably stable contest. More than just improving on the past debate, he needed Biden to spectacularly implode. That didn't happen.
Trump Biden 2020
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