"I'm going to shut down the virus, not the country," he answered at one point, when pushed by Trump on whether he would impose lockdowns on the country if coronavirus cases spiked.
The central challenge for Trump, over the course of two debates, and in the race generally, has been the public's skeptical view of his response to the pandemic. His answers were better on that and other issues Thursday, but the danger he faces is voters' perceptions have long since hardened.
A LIGHTER TONE
The unrelentingly combative tone of the first debate was replaced by a calmer — and far more coherent — affair Thursday, with both Trump and Biden better able to articulate their answers without the other constantly interrupting them mid-sentence. In an election that has been anything but typical, it was a rare night that closely resembled what voters have come to expect in previous presidential debates.
The change was a product, at least in part, of new rules that muted each man's microphone during the first two minutes of the other candidate's answer. It also appeared to be a response from Trump to the harshly negative reaction his first debate received, when he was accused of being a blustering bully.
At one point early in the debate, Trump even thanked the debate moderator, NBC News' Kristen Welker, for letting him answer a question — a far cry from the way he berated Chris Wallace of Fox News last month.
Biden himself was also much crisper with his answers than the first debate, only rarely engaging in a back-and-forth with Trump and focusing instead of making a broader case against the president's tenure in office.
TWO DIFFERENT WORLDS ON CORONAVIRUS
Listening to the candidates forecast the future of the coronavirus crisis, you'd think Trump and Biden were speaking from different planets.
The president — who continued to promote the promise of a vaccine perhaps within weeks — maintained that the country was in the last throes of the pandemic. "It's going away," Trump said, even as 1,200 Americans died of the virus Wednesday.