The president argued that he had already done so, though he has not, and said that his success in repealing the Obama-era law’s individual mandate was a “big thing” on its own. Instead of finally filling in the blanks of his health care agenda, Mr. Trump sought to go on the attack against Mr. Biden, tying him to the “socialist” aspirations of the left wing of the Democratic Party.
Mr. Biden, who campaigned against socialized medicine in the Democratic primary, deflected the attack — “I am the Democratic Party right now,” he said — and sought to keep the focus on Mr. Trump’s lack of health care policies besides gutting the A.C.A.
“He doesn’t have a plan,” Mr. Biden said. “The fact is, this man doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
For Mr. Trump, this first debate appeared to be his best chance to change the trajectory of a presidential race that has so far resisted all manner of Trumpian efforts to shake it up. The president has cycled through an array of attacks against his Democratic challenger in recent months, criticizing or outright smearing Mr. Biden’s governing record, personal ethics, economic policies, family finances, and mental and physical health — often relying on misinformation and falsehoods.
Over the last month, Republicans have made an especially concerted push to brand Mr. Biden as overly sympathetic to racial-justice protests that have turned unruly and insufficiently committed to maintaining public order.
Yet that argument has not budged the race an inch in Mr. Trump’s direction, or changed the minds of a majority of voters who take a negative view of his personal character and his leadership during the pandemic. From the outset of the race, Mr. Trump has prioritized his largely rural and conservative base ahead of all other constituencies, and he has done little to reach out to Americans who do not already support him.
Rather, in a year of tumult, there has been one constant: Mr. Biden has enjoyed a steady lead in the polls since he effectively claimed the nomination in April.