President Trump came to the debate ready with his regular wrap on race when asked to explain his description of “Black Lives Matter” as a symbol of hate: He claimed he had done more than any president since Abraham Lincoln for African-Americans, and he called himself the “least racist person in this room.” (Never mind that the moderator of the debate, Kristen Welker, is a Black woman.)
But he has limited achievements to back up the ludicrous claims he regularly makes as part of his stump speech. He typically points to criminal justice reform and his support for historically Black colleges and universities as the twin backbones of his support for Black Americans. On Thursday night, he also talked about creating opportunity zones.
It’s all been part of an effort to shave off a few points of Mr. Biden’s support among Black voters. Mr. Trump won just 8 percent of Black voters in 2016 and his campaign wants to increase his margin by a few points.
Mr. Biden, however, appeared to take him by surprise by mocking the claims. “Abraham Lincoln here is one of the most racist presidents we’ve had in modern history,” Mr. Biden said. “He pours fuel on every single racist fire.”
Mr. Trump has refused to denounce white supremacists and in recent days even reverted to calling President Barack Obama by his middle name, “Hussein,” a callback to the racist birther conspiracy theory that helped launch Mr. Trump into the national political discourse.
Mr. Trump has never apologized for spending tens of thousands of dollars on full-page newspaper ads calling for the return of the death penalty to punish the Black and Latino teenagers, known as the Central Park Five, who were wrongfully accused of raping a white woman in Central Park in 1989. Instead, he doubled down.
And since taking office, he has frequently stoked racial tensions, elevating the voices of white nationalists when he appeared to defend their actions after a deadly confrontation with liberal protesters in Charlottesville, Va.
Onstage, Mr. Biden said, “this guy is a dog whistle about as big as a foghorn,” noting that at the previous debate he had told the Proud Boys to “stand by.”
“I said not since Abraham Lincoln has anybody done what I’ve done for the Black community,” Mr. Trump said, correcting him. “I didn’t say ‘I’m Abraham Lincoln.’ I said not since Abraham Lincoln has anybody done what I’ve done for the Black community.”
He also hit Mr. Biden for supporting the 1994 crime bill, which “put tens of thousands of Black men, mostly, in jail.”
Mr. Biden conceded that his support for that bill was “a mistake.”
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