The USA TODAY Opinion section asked new members of our Board of Contributors to share their impressions of how President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden performed in Thursday night’s presidential debate. Here are their answers:

The setting and rules reflected Trump’s failures: Christian Schneider

Before the candidates walked out to take part in the debate, Biden had already won it. As with any debate, the actual words spoken by the candidates are ephemeral — but the visual for this debate will be permanent: Each candidate limited by a mute button because the incumbent president cannot control his emotions. And each candidate standing a half mile away from the other because of the president’s failure to address a deadly viral disease that hit America nearly nine months ago.

As for the actual debate, the candidates largely drew even on style, but that usually signals a win for the guy leading in the polls. Trump was in an impossible situation — go full-on aggressive, and you risk a replay of the first debate. Sit back and behave, and you miss the chance to provoke Biden into a campaign-altering gaffe. Trump finally acted like an adult, but in doing so, failed to change the race in any way.

Christian Schneider is a senior reporter at The College Fix and author of “1916: The Blog.” Follow him on Twitter: @Schneider_CM

If you brag about being ‘least racist,’ you might be the most: Erroll G. Southers

Anytime someone tells you they are the least racist person in the room, they might be the most racist person in the room. Those were President Trump’s words at the second and last 2020 presidential debate.

The evening was a smattering of Trump rambling and Biden’s calculated talking points. It was unfortunate that the candidates did not delve into the imminent threat of white supremacist terrorism, systemic racism, inequality, division and diversity.

We heard some good ideas on health care and a lot of word salad besides. But amid all of it, this is what stands out: The president returned to likening himself to Abraham Lincoln and said, “I am the least racist person, I can’t even see the audience because it’s so dark, but I don’t care who’s in the audience. I’m the least racist person in this room.”

That says a lot.

Erroll G. Southers, a former FBI special agent who advised the Biden campaign on police reform, is a professor of the Practice in National & Homeland Security at the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy. Follow him on Twitter: @esouthersHVE

Trump has no COVID plan and Biden is a straight shooter: Stacy Torres

Microphones muted, we finally heard candidates’ plans to mitigate COVID-19. Trump touted nonexistent accomplishments, claiming credit that things weren’t worse, despite 223,000 dead Americans and another 200,000 predicted deaths by year’s end. He offered no plan, only dubious promises of a vaccine within weeks — the same vaccine that many already distrust and won’t be widely available until at least summer 2021.

Biden offered concrete actions to contain COVID-19 informed by science, such as masking, rapid testing investments, and national reopening standards. He effectively referenced the New England Journal of Medicine’s damning editorial blasting Trump’s leadership failure. To instill vaccine confidence, Biden promised the transparency sorely lacking now.

Rather than outline his plan, Trump criticized Biden for hiding in his basement. Our president’s cheery spin on mass death (“I don’t think we’re going to have a dark winter at all”) makes me wonder what planet he’s living on. Happy Halloween.

Stacy Torres is an assistant professor of sociology in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at University of California, San Francisco.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, on Oct. 22, 2020.

Trump’s COVID claims make me want to weep: Kristin Clark Taylor

While this debate was far more civil and restrained than the last, thank goodness, it didn’t really move the needle for either candidate. Most folks have already made up their minds about who they’re going to vote for; tens of millions of those people have already cast their vote.

Trump’s continued claims that we’re “rounding the turn” with COVID-19 and his insistence that the recent spikes are “now gone” make me want to weep; he should try telling that to the families of the 223,000 victims who didn’t quite make it around that turn but perished instead.

Truth be told, while substantive issues were explored — fighting COVID-19, North Korea, health care, foreign influence on the election — I still felt like I was holding my breath through the entire debate, hoping that fireworks and dustups didn’t ensue.

Well, I’m tired of holding my breath. Let’s get this election behind us so that we can breathe again.

Kristin Clark Taylor is an author and a journalist who served as White House director of media relations under President George H.W. Bush. She can be reached at 

Trump did not even try to come up with new lies: David Rothkopf

I am not sure why Donald Trump bothered to show up at the debate.  In fact, I am not even sure he did. Instead, what we saw from the president could well have been a supercut reel of the greatest hits from a lifetime of lying.

He lied about his COVID response, about his Russia ties, about the economy, about what windmills do to birds. He lied about Joe Biden, about Biden’s family, about what he has done for the Black community. It was no surprise. But what I resent is that at this critical juncture in this campaign, he did not even make the effort to come up with new lies.

Biden, on the other hand, was factual and showed his command of the material. It is clearer than ever that on Nov. 3, we have a choice between four more years of dangerous lies from one of the most prolific liars in political history, and the prospect of a return to truth with an honest, decent man as president.

David Rothkopf is host of “Deep State Radio” and CEO of the Rothkopf Group. His latest book, “Traitor: A History of Betraying America from Benedict Arnold to Donald Trump,” will be published in October. Follow him on Twitter: @djrothkopf

Missed opportunities to inform Americans: David J. Skorton

The final debate is history and I am left with one impression and thoughts of my father.

Again on Thursday night, with still too many acrimonious exchanges, there were missed opportunities to clarify policies of immediate interest to Americans. It is unlikely that many voters’ minds were changed. In the end, I am left with thoughts of my father.

One hundred years ago, Dad came to the United States from Russia during another pandemic. Of much wisdom he shared with me, one of immediate relevance is our right to vote. He never understood why so many Americans don’t exercise that right and emphasized to me that it was a sacred duty. And so I have voted in every election since I became eligible. Whatever your proclivities and opinions — please get out and express them with your ballot. My father would be proud of you.


Dr. David J. Skorton is president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges. Previously, he was the 13th secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, president of Cornell University and president of the University of Iowa. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidJSkorton