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Trump and Biden Cast Themselves as Outsider vs. Unifier

In a return to core themes at the campaign’s end, the candidates framed the picture each wants Americans to see as they vote

10/23/2020 9:15:00 PM

In a return to core themes at the campaign’s end, the candidates framed the picture each wants Americans to see as they vote

In a return to core themes at the campaign’s end in their final debate, the candidates framed the picture each wants Americans to see as they vote.

Those were the broadest themes struck in the candidates’ second—and, as it turns out, final—debate Thursday night. The debate itself was a study in contrasts when compared with the shout-fest that was the first debate: A fairly serious and substantive conversation broke out, moving into the actual details of topics such as the minimum wage and policy toward North Korea.

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That was largely the result of changes made by the Commission on Presidential Debates, the skill of moderator Kristen Welker of NBC News and a change in tactics by President Trump, who appears to have concluded that the hectoring approach he took to the first debate did him no favors.

Related Both candidates used the relative calm to make policy-related points sure to reverberate in the days before the Nov. 3 election. Mr. Trump jumped on Mr. Biden’s assertion he would “transition from the oil industry” as a sign that Democrats’ climate policies would undermine the economy. Mr. Biden argued that, though a “dark winter” is coming because of the president’s failure to contain the coronavirus, his own pandemic plan would allow the economy to reopen safely.

Yet the broader themes struck Thursday night might be as important in framing the picture each candidate wants Americans to see as they vote.Mr. Biden portrayed himself as a leader who can unify a country Mr. Trump has spent the last four years dividing. “I don’t look at this in terms of the way he does, blue states and red states,” Mr. Biden said, “They’re all the United States…I’m running as a proud Democrat, but I’m going to be an American president.”

The president essentially painted his challenger as the incumbent, the product of a Washington system, while claiming the mantle of outsider even after nearly a full term in office. “I ran because of you,” Mr. Trump said at one point. Turning to Mr. Biden, he asserted, “I’m looking at you now. You’re a politician.”

Those riffs represented a return to core themes at the end. Mr. Trump ran four years go as an outsider looking into the political system with scorn, and he wants to do so again. When Mr. Biden began his campaign more than a year ago, it was with a declaration that he sought to restore the “character” of the nation.

Write to Gerald F. Seib at jerry.seib@wsj.com Read more: The Wall Street Journal »

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