Biden stumbles, Trump strides through first debate

by Will Tubbs

Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News

It’s a long way to November but, after last night, former President Donald Trump appears to be in the rhetorical driving seat in the race for the Oval Office as questions now swirl as to who will even be on the ballot for the Democratic party.

Trump was widely received, even by his political adversaries, as having produced the better performance in the first presidential debate of 2024. 

But the night was as much about what President Joe Biden did wrong as what Trump did right. Trump won by staying on message and delivering his remarks with oomph as Biden foundered audibly and optically. 

“One Democratic source tells me it’s hard to see how Biden can be the party’s nominee for president,” CNN analyst Kasie Hunt posted in a live-reaction thread. “Another says he’s ‘incoherent.’ They are wondering about his voice, his open-mouthed look, and the presentation contrast with Trump.”

Open-mouthed might be the kindest way to describe the president, who at times looked a mix of alarmed, confused, and lost as he delivered many remarks in hoarse tones.

At one point during the debate Biden seemed to lose his train of thought mid-sentence, giving credance to concerns that he does not have the mental fitness for another four years as president.

While Republicans have continually pointed toward evidence that Biden’s age alongside his signs of mental decline make him unfit for office, following the debate many Democrats also sounded the alarm, with many calling for him to step aside in favor of another Democratic nominee.

Even before the debate ended, Biden’s handlers were floating the excuse that Biden was suffering from a cold, which they said was to blame for the president’s substandard vocals. 

Biden also seemed to be on the losing end of the debate because there was no real theme to his messaging. Weeks of preparation did not seem to have benefitted Biden, who never truly delivered a remark that one would expect to be replayed. There were no “read my lips” moments. 

Rather, Biden ambled through a loosely connected series of ideas without ever establishing a narrative throughline. 

He accused Trump of having “the morals of an alley cat” and, in a poorly executed attempt to mimic Bill Clinton’s “I feel your pain” moment of yesteryear, said “There’s more to be done – considerably more to be done” to help the Black community. 

But there were few if any moments when Biden restated his biggest points or tied his answers to a central idea of his platform. The president was, to borrow a phrase from the realm of public relations, reactive rather than proactive.  He answered the questions but never seemed in control of his environment. 

Trump, by contrast, was on message even when the message didn’t fit the question well. 

In terms of talking points, neither Biden nor Trump offered much in the way of a surprising take on any topic. 

Trump went hard on immigration and the economy while Biden played what he thinks is his best card with a direct attack on Trump’s legal woes. 

“How many billions of dollars do you owe in civil penalties for, for molesting a woman in public, for doing a whole range of things, of having sex with a porn star on the night — while your wife was pregnant?” Biden asked at one point. 

Trump’s response was unconventional, accusing Biden of being worthy of his own set of convictions.

“Joe could be a convicted felon with all of the things that he’s done, he’s done horrible things,” Trump said. “This man is a criminal. This man, you’re lucky, you’re lucky, I did nothing wrong. We have a system that was rigged and disgusting.”

Trump also predicted that Hunter Biden, already a convicted felon, would find himself on the wrong side of more court cases. 

“When he talks about a convicted felon, his son is a convicted felon, at a very high level,” Trump said.

Biden attempted to label Trump as dangerous, warning Americans that Trump would be vindictive against his political rivals if elected to a second term. 

“Could you ever think you heard any president say that ‘I’m going to seek retribution?’” Biden said. “This guy has no sense of American democracy.”

PETTINESS, REDIRECTION ABOUNDS

Trump and Biden were united in one area. Both showed a true skill for circumventing the controls CNN attempted to put on the evening. 

Controlling microphones, demanding the candidates not attack one other with insults, and asking pointed questions were no match for a pair of candidates who do not like one another and entered the debate either doggedly committed to pushing specific talking points or generally unable to rephrase on their feet. 

For Trump, the go-to tactic was to spin everything toward immigration and the economy, undoubtedly strong points in his candidacy. At different points in the debate, Trump turned the topics of childcare costs and the economic struggles of racial minorities into a greater commentary on immigration. 

But the moments of the night that proved most interesting, if ultimately unimportant, were the times when Trump and Biden reverted to their 2020 selves by forgoing any semblance of decorum and openly slinging mud or bickering over even the most inconsequential of items. 

Undoubtedly, the moment that best exemplified this was when the two men spent considerable time arguing over who had the best golf game. 

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