• Trump vs Biden now enters its final stage, with less than two weeks to go before Election Day 2020.
  • Thursday night’s debate between both men was the final time they will meet on a debate stage before voters who haven’t already early-voted will cast their ballots in November.
  • Here’s a summation of one of the highlights of Thursday night’s debate, held at Belmont University in Nashville.

The Trump vs Biden clash on a debate stage Thursday night at Belmont University in Nashville now moves the presidential campaign into its final stage, with a less than two-week sprint to go until Election Day 2020. There was an abundance of topics and issues that dominated the spirited and (surprisingly organized!) final president debate, assiduously moderated by NBC‘s Kristen Welker, from climate change to race in America to immigration.

Make no mistake, though: This is the coronavirus election. Whatever odds Trump may have faced in his re-election bid prior to February of this year, the coronavirus pandemic completely changed the game — and if former Vice President Joe Biden is successful in November, it will arguably be in large part a function of the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic. Which, as we noted earlier today, is poised to enter a particularly dark chapter perhaps as soon as next week, while the pandemic has already killed some 223,000 Americans (per Johns Hopkins University). That’s equivalent to around 74 9/11s since February.

So, again, this is unquestionably the COVID-19 election. Now, let’s come to an answer the president gave at one point during Thursday night’s debate, when he was asked if he takes responsibility for some or all of those lives lost. In the same breath, Trump shot back that “I take full responsibility” but then immediately shifted the blame to China, saying, essentially, that this is all China’s fault.

What has been missing throughout the many months of the pandemic — one of the many things missing — is an FDR-style “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” moment. Or a JFK “ask not what your country can do for you” exhortation to common sacrifice. A more seasoned politician, perhaps, would have grabbed the opportunity to respond to that question during the debate tonight like it was water in the desert, offering something akin to the Bill Clinton lip-bite while promising “I feel your pain.”

Here’s why it matters. According to Google’s real-time search trends, the issue that most people were using Google to search for during the debate was “wages.” People are scared, and their lives have been wrecked either by the virus itself or by, as that search trend shows, the virus’ secondhand effects like people losing their job or seeing their hours cut.

We spend a lot of time here covering the coronavirus from one day to the next, and while it’s still not yet clear when the US will be “rounding the corner,” to use President Trump’s ill-timed phrase, what is clear is that most people will have the virus on their minds when they cast their ballot. Whatever button they press for their choice of the leader of the free world for the next four years will be, in large part, a referendum on that man’s vision for getting us out of this mess. Anything can still happen (just look back to 2016 if you’ve forgotten) — but my suspicion is that Trump insisting “I take full responsibility” while also protesting that none of this is his fault will end up being one of the most consequential things said at the debate tonight, one way or the other.

Andy is a reporter in Memphis who also contributes to outlets like Fast Company and The Guardian. When he’s not writing about technology, he can be found hunched protectively over his burgeoning collection of vinyl, as well as nursing his Whovianism and bingeing on a variety of TV shows you probably don’t like.