Donald Trump vs. Joe Biden: The Moments That Defined the Presidential Campaign in 2020
Everything from the Democratic primaries to President Donald Trump's COVID-19 diagnosis
The 2020 election cycle was one that, in many ways, played second fiddle to an even larger news story: the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The virus weaved its way into the campaign, though it wasn't the only thing that defined the race. Below, a look at the most striking moments of the campaign between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Coronavirus Cases First Confirmed in the U.S.
On Jan. 20, a patient in the United States was given a diagnosis of infection with the novel coronavirus. Within months, the virus would quickly spread across the U.S., killing thousands and sickening millions.
In February, though, Trump, 74, projected an air of optimism about the virus, saying cases would soon be near "zero" as officials had confirmed 15 cases in the country.
Even as cases of the virus have risen, gone down, and then risen again, Trump has frequently claimed that the country is “rounding the turn” on the pandemic.
He's butted heads with doctors, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, who recently warned that the U.S. is “in for a whole lot of hurt” as cases of COVID-19 soar to record-breaking numbers.
Biden Wins the Democratic Primary
Despite facing a tough challenge from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Biden, 77, captured easy victories in a slew of primaries this spring, ultimately crossing the threshold of 1,991 delegates (enough to win the Democratic Party's presidential nomination) in June.
Sanders, 79, dropped out of the race in April, making Biden the presumptive nominee.
Putting a wrench in the final few weeks of Sanders' campaign was the coronavirus pandemic, which all but froze the 2020 presidential race in place, temporarily stopping public campaign events and other political gatherings.
Protests Erupt in the Wake of Police-Involved Killings
On May 25, George Floyd (an unarmed Black man) lay on the pavement of a Minneapolis street while the knee of a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, dug into his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds until Floyd stopped breathing and died.
Video of the incident went viral following Floyd's death which — coupled with a number of other high-profile, police-involved killings — led to protests of police brutality and systemic racism across the country.
Trump, who has touted a message of "law and order," responded to the unrest by threatening to mobilize "heavily armed" military members and suggesting that those caught looting be shot by soldiers.
The president then staged a much-criticized photo op that saw him posing with a Bible at St. John's Episcopal Church, after police cleared his route from protesters using tear gas and flash grenades.
Biden, meanwhile, delivered a somber speech calling for congressional action on police reform and for unity while expressing understanding over the outrage in the wake of Floyd's death.
Bob Woodward Releases Trump Tapes
Trump's public messaging on the COVID-19 pandemic would come back to haunt him in September when veteran journalist Bob Woodward released tapes of the president privately remarking that the virus was "deadly."
Trump chose to speak with the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer after taking issue with how he was depicted in Woodward's earlier book.
Woodward recorded their conversations with Trump's permission, later releasing those tapes to the public. On Feb. 7, Trump told Woodward the virus is "more deadly than even your strenuous flus."
Just over a month after making those remarks in private, the president publicly tweeted: "So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. ... At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!"
First Presidential Debate Devolves Into Chaos
On Sept. 29, the candidates faced off in a fiery first debate, which quickly devolved into a fractious back and forth, largely driven by Trump.
The face-off was to be the first of three scheduled between the candidates ahead of the Nov. 3 election, though the second was eventually called off following Trump's COVID-19 diagnosis and an ensuing back-and-forth between the campaigns.
The following debate, which used a mute button, was far less heated.
Trump Diagnosed With COVID-19
Just hours after it was confirmed that the president's adviser Hope Hicks had been diagnosed with the contagious virus, the president announced he and his wife, First Lady Melania Trump, had also tested positive.
The news came in the middle of the night on Oct. 2, though reports have since suggested that the president knew he was infected earlier than it was officially announced, and had even called into Sean Hannity’s Fox News program on Thursday night knowing he had tested positive.
Trump Hospitalized with COVID-19
Within hours after publicly announcing he had tested positive, reports began surfacing that the president was experiencing symptoms of the virus. Soon after, the White House announced that the president would be heading to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center — the primary hospital that treats U.S. presidents — "out of an abundance of caution."
Though the White House claimed said Trump was only exhibiting "mild symptoms" even as he was hospitalized, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows soon revealed that the president was exhibiting more concerning coronavirus symptoms.
Three days after being hospitalized (and seeing his fever spike and oxygen levels drop), Trump headed back to the White House in dramatic fashion.
Upon arriving at the White House, Trump walked up the steps of a rarely-used upper entrance and stood for a photo op, taking off his mask and putting it in his pocket in a move that would be widely-shared and also criticized, as he was likely still contagious at the time.
His own diagnosis did not change the president's tone on the virus, even as dozens of White House staffers began coming down with cases.
"Don't be afraid of COVID," Trump wrote on Twitter after arriving back at the White House. "Don't let it dominate your life."
Despite his tweet, the virus has continued to dominate the national conversation, with the country seeing its highest one-week spike the week of Election Day.