4 Takeaways From The Biden-Trump Showdown : NPR

President Biden and former President Donald Trump participate in the first presidential debate of the 2024 election at CNN’s studios in Atlanta on June 27.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

hide caption

toggle caption

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

If some people listening to the radio in 1960 thought Richard Nixon won the presidential debate with John F. Kennedy, then perhaps people reading the transcript of Thursday night’s game would think President Biden won.


But elections aren’t won by transcripts. The reality is, rightly or not, that debates are often about optics: how candidates present themselves, defend their results, and fend off attacks.

That’s why so many Democrats are sounding the alarm after the first presidential debate of the 2024 general election. Biden’s campaign team said the president had a cold to explain why he seemed so hoarse and weak . But Biden’s early missteps played into his greatest vulnerability: his age and his ability to meet the challenge of four more years in office.

There were problems for Trump, too, as he continued to spread lies and bathe in the kind of conspiratorial grievances that turned off many voters.

Little has changed the dynamic of this race; will what happened Thursday night make a difference?

Here are four takeaways from the first Biden-Trump debate of this campaign:

1. First, let’s address the elephant in the room: Democrats need to ask themselves whether they would be better off with someone else as their candidate.

Neither candidate is the official nominee yet. National political conventions have not yet taken place – but it is almost impossible for Democrats to replace Biden.

Yet given that he delivered the kind of performance that Democrats feared, party leaders, strategists and many voters, frankly, must have wondered during this debate what it would be like if one of the few other Democrats were standing on that stage.

Biden got a bit louder as the debate wore on, especially on foreign policy. He got in a few lines, like calling Trump a “whiner” when Trump wouldn’t definitively say he would accept the results of the 2024 election. But Biden often couldn’t muster any vigor or coherently convey what he meant. He just couldn’t land the kind of happy-warrior, toothy-grin punches that audiences have seen from Biden in years past.

“Sometimes the spin doesn’t turn,” a Democratic strategist texted midway through the debate when asked for his reaction.

2. If Biden’s audio wasn’t bad enough, the visuals could have been just as bad.

An important rule of thumb for candidates – and moderators – in debates is to be aware of how things look, how you look, what people see in them. And what people saw – and this was predictable – was split screen.

Biden couldn’t use this to his advantage at all, even though Trump dished out lie after lie. Instead, he looked genuinely shocked and confused, which is never good.

Trump and his base may not care for late-night comedy, but this week’s monologues will pique Democratic voters.

3. The format — and the hands-off moderators — worked to Trump’s advantage.

The candidates’ silencing was likely intended to make the debate quieter and to prevent Trump from running roughshod over the moderators or his opponent. But it had the effect of making Trump quieter than usual.

Trump resorted to verbal sleight of hand, during which he directed his own vulnerabilities back at Biden. He was even able, at one point, during a strange exchange about golf handicaps, to say: “Let’s not act like children. »

Moderation, or lack thereof, also allowed Trump to spread lies and hyperbole without being interrupted or corrected. CNN indicated before the debate that moderators were not going to play a significant role in fact-checking the candidates, and they lived up to that.

They left it up to the candidates, for the most part, and because Biden was unable to respond in real time and the moderators refused to do so, the audience was left with a bowl of rotten eggs and moldy lettuce that passed for facts.

Fact Check: What Did Biden and Trump Say About Immigration in the Debate?

4. This debate may not move things much, if at all.

Despite Biden’s struggles, which will naturally dominate the headlines, Trump also had some difficult moments, particularly in the second half of the debate.

In addition to spreading myriad lies, he has done little to credibly defend his conduct during and leading up to the January 6 Capitol siege; he has used the kind of hyperbolic and vituperative language that has long turned off swing voters; and he has shown why many are concerned about some of his positions on these issues, particularly on abortion and how the United States should be represented on the world stage.

So despite Biden’s flaws, millions of people will probably vote for Biden anyway because he is not Trump.

The bottom line is this: Americans said they weren’t happy with their choices, and in this moment — the biggest moment of the 2024 presidential campaign yet — the reason was clear.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *