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Opinion Here’s how Trump and Biden scored in the final debate

(Tom Toles/The Washington Post)

It’s Round 73 of the Post Pundit 2020 Power Ranking, and just like that, the presidential debate season is over. What feels like it began, ahem, four score and seven years ago, can at last be banished from our minds like so much malarkey. But before it’s gone forever, read on for some final scores and commentary from our Ranking Committee members.

Drew Goins

Scoring President Trump

SIX. Oh, you mean “Abraham Lincoln”? We always say we won’t fall yet again into the trap of heralding the president’s “new tone,” but we always at least stumble to its edge. Yes, Trump was more disciplined, but we’re so focused on his style now that we barely pay attention to the substance. That’s likely a help, however, with those swing voters who are sort of looking for permission to cast their ballots for him. Now they can say: “Hey, see, he wasn’t so crazy this time!” — Molly Roberts

FIVE. Yes, when Joe Biden sarcastically referred to Donald Trump as “Abraham Lincoln over here,” Trump angrily interrupted both him and the moderator to clarify that he was not, in fact, Abraham Lincoln. Helpful! All in all, he was much improved from the first debate; he was clearly coached to be less shouty and aggressive. But I’m not sure he endeared himself more to viewers. His dismissal of the idea of “families around the table” and his use of his son Barron as an example of how one shouldn’t worry about covid-19 in children were shocking in their callousness. — Christine Emba

EIGHT. Very controlled, got in a lot of points both positive and negative. But probably not good enough to pick off weak Biden supporters, and that’s what he needed to do. — Henry Olsen

SEVEN. Trump didn’t clearly hurt himself in this debate. That’s good for him — but as Henry said, he must gain ground if he wants to win. I don’t know if that happened. — David Byler

FIVE. Trump landed effective (if dishonest) blows by falsely painting Biden as nothing but a failed D.C. insider and by distorting Biden’s claim that we must eventually wean ourselves off oil. But Trump had two big softball chances to demonstrate empathy and basic humanity — on the more than 500 migrant kids whose parents can’t be located and on the more than 200,000 dead from the coronavirus. He whiffed on both. It was his final chance to convert the undecideds and former soft Trump supporters who have strayed, and their numbers are dwindling fast. — Greg Sargent

President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden met for a debate on Oct. 22. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

EIGHT. As a whole, the debate was what Trump needed and got, which was some momentum into the close. The former vice president’s staleness played right into one of the president’s major points: We have been hearing this for a half-century from Joe Biden. — Hugh Hewitt

THREE. It is doubtful a fraction of the audience followed his rambling accusations about the Bidens. He had to change the trajectory of the race. He didn’t. He faces defeat in 11 days. — Jennifer Rubin

FIVE. Trump talked in code meant for the Fox audience — “AOC plus three” — and sounded completely inhumane about the 500-plus children whose parents are missing. He sneered at the concept of addressing families at their kitchen tables. Still, it was a dramatic improvement on his part. What does that say? — Karen Tumulty

SIX-AND-A-HALF. Unfortunately for Trump, a massive improvement over the last debate is an exceedingly low bar. — Megan McArdle

FIVE. Obviously a better performance than before, but he swung and missed on the attempt to make Hunter Biden the big story. Too much arcane detail, and Biden just issued blanket denials. — Eugene Robinson

Scoring Joe Biden

SEVEN. Biden also performed better than he did in the last debate. But the improvement was smaller because, unlike Trump, Biden didn’t self-immolate in the first debate. — David Byler

EIGHT. Had to keep control of his temper a number of times but generally made many strong ripostes. He did well enough to energize his partisans and keep his weak supporters in line. — Henry Olsen

EIGHT. He was as fluid and substantive on policy as we have seen from any candidate. By allowing Trump to be Trump, he could contrast his own values with Trump’s utter lack of decency. — Jennifer Rubin

FIVE. After a few even rounds, Trump outlasted Biden, and Biden made a series of serious errors culminating in his vow to shutter the oil industry. — Hugh Hewitt

SEVEN. Biden stumbled a few times, failing to crisply rebut Trump’s distortion of his claim that humanity will ultimately have to transition to clean energy (what a gaffe!!!). But importantly, Biden avoided chasing Trump down the right-wing Hunterghazi rabbit hole. He drew a sharp contrast on the coronavirus — he has a plan and Trump does not, ‘nuff said — as well as health care, arguing that he would expand access and protections while Trump would destroy them. Those two issues will be likely to decide this election, full stop. — Greg Sargent

SIX-AND-A-HALF. He was adequate but kept forgetting names and words, which isn’t a great look. Lucky for him, his opponent is President Trump, who has a variety of looks, few of them good. — Megan McArdle

EIGHT. A solid performance in a debate that was, overall, less insane than I had feared. He had very effective moments when he looked into the camera and talked about bread-and-butter issues. — Eugene Robinson

SEVEN. All Biden had to do was hold the course, and he did so ably. In fact, he actually improved from the first debate. He pushed back on Trump without resorting to insults and very clearly reiterated the main themes of his campaign: president for all Americans, candidate of decency. — Christine Emba

SEVEN. Trump’s discipline probably helped Biden out, too, making it easy for him to stay on track — and to engage in the sort of contest he could actually practice for rather than an interruptathon. He needed to do fine, and he did well. That means Biden won because he didn’t really need to win to win. And all that energy made one wonder if he pre-gamed this one with a whole pint of ice cream! — Molly Roberts

FIVE. But he’s ahead, so a draw is a win. — Karen Tumulty

… and taking home the 2020 Election Olympics’ gold medal for moderating …

… is Kristen Welker, says Hugh Hewitt. She handled the impossible with firmness and grace, Eugene Robinson says, giving her a perfect 10 — though Karen Tumulty only gives the mute button a four.

TOTAL: BIDEN 68.5 – TRUMP 58.5

Previous ranking: Round 72 | Here’s how Pence and Harris (and the fly) scored in the debate

Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments. We’ll see you for the next ranking. Until then, may all your muting be more fruitful.

Read more on 2020:

Transcript: Columnists’ real-time commentary on the final presidential debate

Jennifer Rubin: The last debate is the final straw

Dana Milbank: The only thing worse for Trump than an unwatchable debate is a watchable one

Alyssa Rosenberg: Trump is definitely not a ‘typical politician.’ America could use one right now.

Marc A. Thiessen: Trump cleaned Biden’s clock on race