President Trump heeded the pleas of his advisers to tone it down during Thursday night’s debate against former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., but the two clashed on a series of issues that underscored their vastly different visions for the nation.
Mr. Trump did not reflexively interrupt Mr. Biden or talk over the moderator repeatedly. His voice stayed mostly calm.
The president tried to defend his handling of the pandemic, but Mr. Biden eviscerated him for it. The former vice president, who has called for a return to civility, mocked the president’s claim that people were learning to live with the coronavirus.
“We’re dying with it,” Mr. Biden responded after Mr. Trump falsely claimed that spikes in cases in several states had receded.
It is a theme Mr. Biden was expected to try to drive home on Friday at a campaign appearance in Delaware, where he will outline his approach to handling the pandemic.
Mr. Trump tried to focus attention on the topic that he and his allies have pushed for days: about foreign business deals sought by Mr. Biden’s son Hunter. Mr. Biden said that he himself never took money from foreign countries, and then turned attention back to Mr. Trump’s thick web of business entanglements and conflicts.
There was a moment of levity when Mr. Biden, puzzling at a response from Mr. Trump, said, “I don’t know where this guy comes from.” Mr. Trump responded dryly, “Queens.”
Though Mr. Biden performed better than he had in their earlier matchup, he was not perfect. During a discussion of energy, Mr. Biden said he would “transition” away from the oil industry, a statement that Republicans are likely to focus on. (After the debate, Mr. Biden stressed that “we’re not getting rid of fossil fuels for a long time.”)
Still, with 11 days left until the election and over 40 million Americans having cast ballots already — more than a third of the total who voted in the 2016 election overall — a draw or even a modest victory for Mr. Trump might not do much to change the trajectory of the race.
And any path to victory for Mr. Trump would likely have to include a win in Florida. So Mr. Trump was scheduled to hold two rallies in the state on Friday before spending the night at Mar-a-Lago.
For a few fleeting moments on Thursday night, it looked as though President Trump and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. might actually debate the nation’s greatest foreign policy challenge: its relationship with China.
But Mr. Trump quickly pivoted the conversation to unsubstantiated allegations that Mr. Biden enriched himself through his son’s dealings with Chinese officials. Mr. Biden, seeking to assert his tough-on-China credentials, recalled a trip to Beijing in 2013 when he pushed back on China’s attempt to control a wide swath of airspace in the contested East China Sea by requiring foreign planes to identify themselves when they flew through it.
The move ignited tensions with Japan, a key American ally, and Mr. Biden warned President Xi Jinping to show restraint. On Thursday, Mr. Biden referred to Mr. Xi as a thug and accused Mr. Trump of cozying up to him.
That was as far as the candidates got in discussing what many analysts view as one of the world’s most dangerous flash points — a place where Chinese and American warships might someday fire on each other.
For the rest of the night, China became a watchword for allegations of shady business dealings, a deadly virus, and a carbon-glutted atmosphere, which Mr. Trump described as “filthy.”
Their exchanges on trade captured the caricatured role that China has played in the campaign. Mr. Trump repeated his erroneous claim that China is paying the United States billions of dollars because of his tariffs. In fact, most of those costs are passed on to American consumers.
Mr. Biden claimed that the American trade deficit with China had gone up, not down, during the Trump presidency — not true, given the protectionist measures that Mr. Trump imposed.
The president said he pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord because it did not impose the same demands on China, and other major developing economies, as it did on the United States.
Mr. Biden said he would rejoin the accord specifically to hold China to the pledges it made under that agreement. “We need to be having the rest of our friends with us saying to China — these are the rules,” Mr. Biden said. “You play by them or you’re going to pay the price for not playing by them, economically.”
Though China loomed large over trade, climate, and geopolitics, Mr. Trump kept the focus on allegations that Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter, had tried to cash in with the Chinese on his father’s name.
Mr. Biden fired back, noting the report in The New York Times that Mr. Trump had an undisclosed bank account in China.
“I have many bank accounts and they’re all listed and they’re all over the place,” Mr. Trump replied. “I was a businessman doing business.”
Before the president’s last, best chance to change the trajectory of his re-election bid, his mandate on Thursday evening was at once clear and complicated: Be less like Donald J. Trump.
It can be said that he tried, by his standard. He succeeded at various points in acting like the type of person he claims to disdain: a typical politician in a debate. He spoke with an inside voice while saluting his own pandemic response. He interrupted far less. He thanked the moderator for letting him chime in and did not sound sarcastic while doing so.
And it is far from certain that he helped himself enough anyway.
Swiveling all night between heeding the advice of allies who have pleaded for uncharacteristic discipline and succumbing to impulses that can still consume him as he faces down an opponent he cannot process losing to, Mr. Trump stood before the electorate a candidate in conflict at his late campaign hour.
If Mr. Trump appeared to recognize that the debate represented his final mass audience less than two weeks before Election Day, he also showed the limits of even a more finely calibrated executive performance.
In an election that Mr. Biden’s team has sought to frame as a referendum on the incumbent, particularly his handling of the coronavirus — an endeavor that Mr. Trump has often made quite straightforward for his rival — it was the president who entered Thursday night with more work to do, given the national and battleground state surveys showing him behind.
At times, his answers seemed tailored explicitly with this deficit in mind, targeted at groups with whom he must improve his standing, like older Americans, whom he pledged at one point to “protect” four times in a matter of seconds.
But in a moment of relentless national upheaval, manifesting in protest, public health crisis and immense financial turmoil, Mr. Trump also could not help but accentuate the most essential qualities of his tenure on Thursday, reverting to fits of magical-thinking-aloud and grievance-stuffed nonrestraint.
If voters reject him next month, this will be the chief reason: The 2020 campaign is different, and Mr. Trump is not.
While senior Trump administration officials said this week that Iran has been actively interfering in the presidential election, many intelligence officials said they remained far more concerned about Russia, which in recent days has hacked into state and local computer networks in breaches that could allow Moscow broader access to American voting infrastructure.
The discovery of the breaches came as American intelligence agencies, infiltrating Russian networks themselves, have pieced together details of what they believe are Russia’s plans to interfere in the presidential race in its final days or immediately after the election on Nov. 3. Officials did not make clear what Russia planned to do, but they said its operations would be intended to help President Trump, potentially by exacerbating disputes around the results, especially if the race is too close to call.
F.B.I. and Homeland Security officials also announced on Thursday that Russia’s state hackers had targeted dozens of state and local governments and aviation networks starting in September. They stole data from the computer servers of at least two unidentified targets and continued to crawl through some of the affected networks, the agencies said. Other officials said that the targets included some voting-related systems, and that they may have been collateral damage in the attacks.
So far, there is no evidence that the Russians have changed any vote tallies or voter registration information, officials said. They added that the Russian-backed hackers had penetrated the computer networks without taking further action, as they did in 2016.
But American officials expect that if the presidential race is not called on election night, Russian groups could use their knowledge of the local computer systems to deface websites, release nonpublic information or take similar steps that could sow chaos and doubts about the integrity of the results, according to officials briefed on the intelligence. Such steps could fuel Mr. Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that the vote is “rigged” and that he can be defeated only if his opponents cheat.
Kristen Welker, the debate’s moderator, began the night with a plea for civility.
“Please,” she instructed the men standing before her, “speak one at a time.”
For the most part, Ms. Welker got what she wanted.
In a high-stakes debut overseeing a presidential debate — taking charge of a candidate matchup that proved a bucking bronco for the last moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News — Ms. Welker, an NBC anchor and correspondent, managed to restore order to a quadrennial institution that some believed could not be tamed.
Mr. Wallace himself said on Fox News: “Well first of all, I’m jealous. I would’ve liked to have been able to moderate that debate and get a real exchange of views instead of hundreds of interruptions.”
No doubt, she benefited from Trump 2.0: a calmer president arrived onstage Thursday, a contrast with the candidate who derailed the proceedings in Cleveland last month. And she had a technological assist in the form of muted microphones, a novelty installed to keep the exchanges between Mr. Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. from going from civics to chaos.
But in a poised and crisp performance, Ms. Welker, 44, succeeded where Mr. Wallace got walloped. Battle-tested by years of covering the Trump White House, she parried with the president and cut him off as needed; Mr. Trump, eager to shed voters’ memories of his unruly performance last month, mostly acquiesced.
Ms. Welker — the first Black woman to moderate a general-election presidential debate since Carole Simpson of ABC in 1992 — entered the evening facing an onslaught of attacks from Mr. Trump, who earlier this week called her “terrible.”
Little of the pressure showed onscreen. Ms. Welker was polite but firm in guiding the discussion, offering chances for brief rebuttals but also taking control when the candidates threatened to go on a harangue, repeatedly urging, “We need to move on.”
Madison Cawthorn, a Republican candidate for the House from North Carolina, created an attack website accusing a journalist of leaving a job in academia “to work for non-white males, like Cory Booker, who aims to ruin white males running for office.”
The journalist, Tom Fiedler, who had written favorably about Mr. Cawthorn’s opponent, is a former dean of the Boston University College of Communications. He volunteered for the 2020 presidential campaign of Senator Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey.
Mr. Fiedler has since written articles and fact-checks about Mr. Cawthorn for a nonprofit news website in North Carolina’s 11th congressional district, where Mr. Cawthorn is facing Moe Davis, a former Air Force prosecutor.
The attack on Mr. Fielder was reported by The Bulwark, which called it “a despicable smear” echoing racist remarks by Mr. Trump.
By late Thursday, the website’s language accusing Mr. Fiedler of seeking to ruin white male candidates had been deleted. It was changed to read that Mr. Fielder had “become a political operative and is an unapologetic defender of left-wing identity politics.”
“The syntax of our language was unclear and unfairly implied I was criticizing Cory Booker,” Mr. Cawthorn said in a statement. “I have condemned racism and identity politics throughout my campaign including during my convention speech when I highlighted M.L.K.’s vision for equality,” he said in reference to the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
The open congressional seat, which was held by Mark Meadows before he became President Trump’s chief of staff, has become unexpectedly competitive.
A team of New York Times journalists fact-checked Thursday night’s debate, providing context and analysis for nearly four dozen statements by President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. Their findings:
In their final debate, Mr. Trump unleashed an unrelenting series of false, misleading and exaggerated statements as he sought to distort Mr. Biden’s record and positions and boost his own re-election hopes. The president once again relied heavily on well-worn talking points that have long been shown to be false.
The president appeared determined to reinvent the reality of the last four years — and the history of the pandemic in 2020 — as he faces judgment on his actions in just 11 days. He once again falsely dismissed the Russia investigations as a “phony witch hunt.” He insisted that aside from Abraham Lincoln, “nobody has done more for the Black community,” an assertion that many people in both parties find laughable. And he tried again to wish away the coronavirus, saying “we are rounding the turn” even as U.S. virus cases hit their second-highest one-day level of the entire pandemic on Thursday and the country is headed toward its steepest surge yet.
The clash between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump was contentious but more well-behaved than their first debate, with fewer interruptions. Mr. Biden made false statements, too: He falsely accused Mr. Trump of having “caused the deficit with China to go up,” and he exaggerated when he suggested that the latest virus surge is concentrated in “red states.” But Mr. Trump relied more on questionable and specious arguments about Mr. Biden’s family, Democratic policy positions and his own record.
Law enforcement officials in St. Petersburg, Fla., said Thursday that they would station deputies at five early voting sites as a precaution, the day after two armed men dressed as security guards were seen at a campaign tent outside a polling station.
The men told a law enforcement official that they had been hired by the Trump campaign to provide security, said Deputy Chuck Skipper of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. But the county sheriff, Bob Gualtieri, said that he had “absolutely no confirmation” that the men had been hired by the campaign. The men said they were guards for a Florida-based security company, Mr. Gualtieri said.
Thea McDonald, a spokeswoman for President Trump’s campaign, said in a statement, “The campaign did not hire these individuals nor did the campaign direct them to go to the voting location.”
The men’s presence came at a time of tension and fears of unrest at the polls after the Trump campaign’s promise to send “an army” of poll watchers to voting sites. During the first presidential debate, Mr. Trump urged supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully.”
Mr. Gualtieri said that while the men might have made some voters feel uneasy, they had not violated laws.
“All of a sudden two people arrived, they were wearing tan khaki pants, they had on blue polo shirts with a security guard insignia on them,” Mr. Gualtieri said. “They were also armed and they were wearing gun belts and they had firearms. That caused some concerns because of the heightened awareness.”
But he added: “Their mere presence does not constitute voter coercion or intimidation. Some people may see these people here and it doesn’t give them a great feeling. On the other side of the coin, it may give others a good feeling, because they feel protected.”
The League of Women Voters immediately expressed concern that the presence of deputies at polling sites could itself deter voters from appearing, noting a history of barriers to voting in St. Petersburg.
“While in intention it is really meant to make voters feel at ease, given the events yesterday, it isn’t necessary for law enforcement officers to be inside polling places,” said Linsey Grove, the organization’s local president.
The head of the security company that employs the men, Syotos, which is based in Crestview, Fla., attributed the episode to a misunderstanding involving an off-duty employee. “We had an off-duty employee who was picking up a family member who happened to be in the vicinity of a polling location,” the chief executive of Syotos, Trei McMullen, wrote, saying that the employee was “in no way engaging in poll watching.”
In another Florida incident, in Miami-Dade County, State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said on Thursday that her office would look into the case of a Miami police officer who wore a face mask with a profane pro-Trump slogan to an early voting site on Tuesday while in uniform. The department has said that the officer, Daniel Ubeda, will be disciplined.
Patricia Mazzei contributed reporting.
There are 11 days until Election Day. Here are the schedules of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates for Friday, Oct. 23. All times are Eastern time.
4:30 p.m.: Holds a rally in The Villages, Fla., a retirement community.
7 p.m.: Holds a rally in Pensacola, Fla.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
2:30 p.m.: Speaks about the pandemic in Wilmington, Del.
Vice President Mike Pence
1 p.m.: Holds a rally in Swanton, Ohio.
4:30 p.m.: Holds a rally in West Mifflin, Pa.
Senator Kamala Harris
5 p.m.: Visits Atlanta to promote early voting
President Trump’s re-election campaign entered the final stretch with $109 million less in the bank than Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s effort, according to federal election disclosures filed on Thursday.
As of Oct. 14, Mr. Biden’s campaign, the Democratic National Committee and the joint fund-raising committees they share had more than $331 million available, compared to $222 million for the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and their affiliated fund-raising committees.
Mr. Trump’s small-dollar fund-raising committee struggled with costs in October, bringing in $36 million while spending $32 million on expenses, including digital advertising and direct mailings. Over all, Mr. Trump and the Republican National Committee raised $108 million in the first two weeks of the month.
In the same time period, Mr. Biden’s committees raised $162 million and spent $218 million. The bulk of the Biden campaign’s spending during that time was on advertising, shelling out $83 million for television ads and an additional $43 million online.
President Trump and many supporters have blamed restrictions on business activity, often imposed by Democratic governors and mayors, for prolonging the economic crisis initially caused by the virus. But the experience of states like Iowa shows that the economy is far from back to normal even in Republican-led states that have imposed few business restrictions.
A growing body of research has concluded that the steep drop in economic activity in the spring was primarily a result of individual decisions by consumers and businesses rather than legal mandates. People stopped going to restaurants even before governors ordered them shut down. Airports emptied out even though there were never significant restrictions on domestic air travel.
States like Iowa that reopened quickly did have an initial pop in employment and sales. But more cautious states have at least partly closed that gap, and have seen faster economic rebounds in recent months by many measures.
Economists say it is hard to estimate exactly how much economic activity is still being restrained by capacity limits, social-distancing rules and similar policies, many of which have been lifted or loosened even in places governed by Democrats. In most states, restaurants, retail stores and even bars are allowed to operate.
Perhaps the most widespread government action that has hindered economic growth is the decision by many school districts to adopt virtual learning at the start of the school year, which appears to have driven many parents, particularly women, out of the labor force to care for young children who would otherwise be in class.
But as the pandemic flares again in much of the country, most economists agree this much is clear: The main thing holding back the economy is not formal restrictions. It is people’s continued fear of the virus itself.