The second and final Presidential Debate on Oct. 22 may be the most consequential of the two, with severe implications for this election's outcome. Since August, and most likely even before then, most Americans seem to have settled relatively quickly on who they intend on voting for President this November. The polls have been incredibly close in places like Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Florida, all within a 2-5 point margin . With so few undecided voters and the even more difficult task in tracking them, anything could happen on Tuesday, November 3.
According to the U.S. Elections Project, over 98 million people have already voted; the election may already be decided in individual states. If it hasn't been, and there was a moment for President Trump to increase his winning chances, it happened on the debate stage President Trump was able to articulate his position, why he should have a second term, exposing the underbelly of Biden, and cast himself as the over-confident character that his supporters want. Trump had failed in all of these things previously.
This election will not be determined by Democrats staying home. Democrats across the spectrum have made it clear that removing Trump is the number one priority. Many far-left Democrats see Biden has a chance to have more significant influence over the White House, a kind they haven't had since FDR. This election will ultimately be determined in the swing states by Centrist Republicans and Independents, who generally feel comfortable with Biden and struggle with the twist Trump has put on the party. They are continuously repulsed by Trump personally and are concerned with the long-term effects on the country and the party.
This group of people has not been lost amongst the efforts of either campaign. Biden has put considerable time into getting the endorsement of Cindy McCain, the widow of the late senator John McCain, and many former Bush National Security official's blessings. The Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump Republican political project, is working in league with Biden to show moderate republicans that it's acceptable to support a democrat this time around. Some might say that the Lincoln Project might be a bit too aggressive in their work, adopting the same grotesque tactics that Trump has innovated in modern politics.
The major problem is that Biden failed to effectively beat out Trump for the moderate republican vote at the last debate. Biden has left too many questions on the table regarding his firm opinion on court-packing, and how much influence mainline and progressive democrats will have in his White House. It's important to remember that Biden was the most centrist Democrat on any debate stage in the primary. It is also reasonable that most of the people he brings into his White House will be farther to the left than he is. Biden even opened up a more significant question on his position on “Fracking” ( he flip-flopped). His new positions on a $15 minimum wage and fossil fuels might make moderate Republicans question a vote for Biden.
Trump did leave his flanks open, especially on the issue of health care. Republicans have failed to develop any clear policy on how they would replace ObamaCare. This issue might be enough to sink Trump, but many Americans might see another battle on health care to be an “old hat." One that each party has failed in delivering successfully. Despite the importance of this issue, many voters who are not directly impacted by the issue will go blind to it.
For all that, the greatest reason is that Trump has done something that no one thought was possible four years ago - Trump learned. By nearly every measure, Trump has governed much more conservatively than anyone expected. Pundits, like Ben Shapiro, who had shunned Trump in 2016 now roundly endorse him. The President displayed a clear understanding of center-right politics not fully seen by him before. He also managed to balance his worse character traits. Despite being the incumbent, he managed to "fight the establishment" repeatedly to Biden's record. Something that Biden failed to clarify and something that was a winning trope for Trump last time around.
This not to say in any way that everything Trump said was good, or even true. This is to say that Trump articulated himself in a way that moderate republicans are more likely to find appealing and maybe prevent them for sitting out or going for Biden. A Biden victory still seems likely, especially considering the short time remaining in the election, but the picture is still murky.
Trump placed his most effective hit against Biden in the last round of the campaign; its effectiveness won't be apparent until election day. It is clear to me that we are in a real horse race, every vote will matter, and the results of this election may have more tremendous implications than the typical party swing that this country has experienced over that past 40 years.
The differences between the two candidates on major institutional issues could not be further, and the outcome of the race will shape the ideological positions of each party in a very dramatic fashion.