Five takeaways on a pivotal Trump-Biden debate

MixCollage 27 Jun 2024 09 27 PM 8092

President Biden and former President Trump met for the first time in four years on a debate stage in Atlanta on Thursday in what was cast as a pivotal moment in the presidential race.

By the end of their 90-minute encounter, observers on the left and the right seemed to agree the night had been a game-changer – though not one that was helpful for Biden.

The two candidates tangled over the economy, abortion, immigration and foreign policy, but the night is likely to be best remembered for Biden’s stumbling start – which the White House blamed in part on a cold.

Here are five takeaways.

Biden fails to dispel worries about his age

Biden, who is 81 and would be 86 at the end of his second term, did little to help assuage concerns among voters that he is ready for another four years in the Oval Office.

One of the main concerns that Biden has continued to face throughout the 2024 campaign has been his age, and his slow start in a debate his campaign had asked for called into question his decision to move forward with the June debate.

“There’s no way I’d send my boss out on national TV in that condition,” Michael Hardaway, a former spokesperson for House Majority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), wrote on X.

Biden suffered from several missteps in which he stumbled over his words and at times was unclear in his statements. His voice was also hoarse throughout the night and he started out the debate speaking especially quietly. 

One of the most notable instances where Biden stumbled came early in the debate during a discussion on Medicare. 

“Making sure that we’re able to make every single solitary person eligible for what I’ve been able to do with, the eh, COVID. Excuse me, with dealing with everything we have to do with,” he said, freezing up. “Look… we finally beat Medicare.” 

Trump, whose campaign has sought to make the case that Biden isn’t ready for four more years in the White House, paused before taking the opportunity to respond that Biden “beat Medicare to death.” 

Multiple sources told The Hill and other outlets that Biden has a cold, which is to explain for the “slow” start, but it surely was not what Biden needed to help dispel questions about his abilities. 

Trump is no spring chicken. He just turned 78 and would be the oldest president in history if he served a full term. But questions about his age have not stuck to Trump they way they have to Biden, and the Republican’s performance on Thursday night was unlikely to change this dynamic.

Biden did pick up as the debate went on, confronting Trump more often on various statements he made. One notable instance came when he slammed Trump for comments the former president reportedly made in 2018 calling veterans “suckers” and “losers,” which Trump has denied. 

Democratic strategist Jon Reinish argued that Biden improved with time. 

“The president started slow but picked up steam. His team should look up two homespun remedies for the throat: honey and lemon,” he said. 

Trump is relatively disciplined 

Former President Trump’s performance in the first debate of the 2020 campaign was panned for his constant interruptions and aggressive tone with Biden. On Thursday, he had no such issue. 

Trump’s answers were routinely filled with misleading statements or falsehoods, such as when he claimed Biden planned to quadruple every American’s taxes. He minimized the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, and he equivocated over whether he would accept the 2024 election results. 

But he avoided the kind of blow-ups that have plagued him in the past, allowing him to pass the optics test as Biden meandered through certain topics and lost his train of thought at times. 

The former president’s aides and Republican strategists argued going into Thursday’s showdown that it was incumbent on Trump not to have any self-inflicted wounds and to make Biden the focus of the evening. 

While he may have been aided in part by microphone muting that prevented candidates from being heard when it was not their turn to speak, Republicans felt it was mission accomplished for Trump by the end of the night. 

“The MVP of this debate for Trump is the split screen visual contrast of Trump and Biden,” Republican strategist Ford O’Connell told The Hill. “Trump looks 20 years younger and sharp while Biden looks dazed and incapable of serving another four years. After tonight the chance of another debate between Trump and Biden is less than zero.” 

Moderators fail to fact check 

Moderators Dana Bash and Jake Tapper worked to keep the candidates to their time limits, but they opted against any real-time fact checking during the debate, despite some experts’ urging ahead of time that Trump and Biden should be held to account.  

The decision not to challenge debate claims left room for the candidates to stretch the truth and trade accusations.  

This may also have benefitted Trump. After the debate was over, CNN’s own fact-checker Daniel Dale counted at least 30 false claims from Trump and at least nine from Biden. But Dale’s fact-checking efforts were shown after plenty of viewers were done watching the debate.

At one point, Trump appeared to suggest that Biden “basically went after his political opponent” the former president through the Manhattan hush money case in which Trump was found guilty last month. 

Four years ago, Trump’s outlandish claims during the 2020 debates prompted heavy fact-checks after curtains closed.  

Biden’s campaign and his allies shared checks on Trump’s statements in social media posts throughout the night – and trackers from various news outlets worked to keep pace with both candidates.  

The contentious debate was controlled in part by a mute button that cut off both candidates and the lack of a live studio audience – efforts by the network to avoid a repeat of the pair’s rowdy 2020 showdowns. 

But the moderators struggled to keep candidates to task, opening the door for both falsehoods and tangents. At one point, Trump ignored a question about childcare affordability and used his time to knock Biden as “the worst president ever.”  

“I wish the CNN moderators did more fact-checking, letting the audience know when things are said that are flatly false. Not sure how it helps for a platform to transmit falsehoods disguised as facts,” said longtime New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof in a post on X as observers piled on critiques.  

Conservative commentator Ann Coulter, on the other hand, called the moderators “surprisingly great” and “not wildly unfair.”  

Republican strategist Brian Seitchik said the moderators successfully kept themselves out of the spotlight through their restrained approach. Reinish, the Democratic strategist, said the moderators ought to have stepped in more. 

It wasn’t 2020, but it got personal 

The first debate between Trump and Biden was infamous for the chaos that dominated the event and intense arguments that both candidates got into. 

The debate on Thursday did not reach that level of tension, but it still became personal at times. 

As Biden picked up a bit later in the debate, he called Trump a “sucker” and a “loser” in reference to the comments about deceased veterans that Trump reportedly made. 

“He was standing with his four-star general, and he told me, he said, ‘I don’t want to go in there, because they’re bunch of losers and suckers,’” Biden said. “My son was not a loser. He’s not a sucker. You’re the sucker. You’re the loser.” 

Trump at one point called Biden a “Manchurian candidate” in accusing him of not standing up to China. 

Both candidates accused the other of lying or being untruthful during the debate about various policy issues. 

Notably, the candidates did not shake hands before or after the debate. At the end, Biden was greeted by his wife, first lady Jill Biden, while Trump walked off. 

Democrats left the night worried and frustrated 

Biden’s performance, which showed him losing concentration and fumbling over his words, left Democrats in panic mode even before the debate had wrapped up. 

“I am not a Biden campaign staffer, nor am I a Bidenworld confidante. I don’t know if high-level conversations are happening right now about Biden’s concerning performance, but it would be political malpractice to pretend tonight advanced the Biden campaign,” explained Max Burns, a Democratic strategist and opinion writer for The Hill, on X.  

“When Barack Obama badly fumbled his first debate against Mitt Romney in 2012, that led to serious talks about what went wrong and what needed to be done to fix it. Obama righted his ship,” he added in a separate post. “Those same conversations need to happen with Biden right now.” 

For Democrats, the CNN debate was supposed to be the party’s first opportunity to show voters what a contrast between Trump and Biden looked like. Democrats hoped Biden would have the kind of vigor he showcased during his “State of the Union” address this year. 

Instead, it showcased an initially slow-moving Biden whose debate performance underscored voters’ concerns over his age.  

“Biden’s start was bad (no other way to say it folks),” wrote Symone Sanders Townsend, a former senior adviser to Vice President Harris. “He improved throughout the debate, but this wasn’t the Biden allies hoped to see tonight. I think its fair to note the President apparently has a cold, but when it comes to debates…the performance matters just as much as the content.” 

Arizona-based Republican strategist Barrett Marson mused on X about how likely the hashtag “#ReplaceBiden” would start making the rounds online. The word “dementia” was also trending on X.  

Biden will have one more opportunity to debate Trump and significantly improve his performance when he participates in one hosted by ABC News in September, though the president will have a lot of ground to make up before then.

Julia Manchester contributed to this story.

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top