The First Biden-Trump Presidential Debate of 2024: Cleanup on Aisles 46 and 45

After weeks of immense anticipation and hype, the first presidential debate of the 2024 election season aired on Thursday, June 27, on CNN and other cable and digital platforms.  When all was said and done, Democrat Joe Biden, the 46th president of the United States, and GOP’s Donald J. Trump, the 45th, left more questions than answers in the minds of 51.27 million viewers about who should lead America after the November election.

With CNN’s Jake Tapper and Dana Bash co-moderating the historic debate, the event brought out the good, bad, and ugly – light on the good – from Biden and Trump, who went toe-to-toe over issues facing America, but without a studio audience to convince.

The questions presented to the candidates were from national polls, derived from issues most important to Americans, such as the economy, illegal border crossings, immigration policies, abortion rights, the January 6 insurrection, the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, and drifting foreign relations with China and Russia.

Biden fielded the first question. “What do you say to voters who feel they are worse off under your presidency than they were under President Trump?” Tapper asked.

“You have to take a look at what I was left when I became president, what Mr. Trump left me,” said Biden.  “We had an economy that was in freefall. The pandemic was so badly handled, many people were dying. The economy collapsed.  What we had to do was try to put things back together again. That’s exactly what we began to do.”

Trump disagreed.

“We had the greatest economy in the history of our country,” he said bombastically. “We got hit with COVID. And when we did, we spent the money necessary so we wouldn’t end up in a Great Depression the likes of which we had in 1929.  We did a great job.  But the thing we never got the credit for, and we should have, is getting us out of that COVID mess. He created mandates that were a disaster for our country.”

Other questions and answers followed, but the visual and speech deliverance of the two candidates throughout the debate was in stark contrast, aided by a split- television screen viewed by millions in America and on foreign soil. Biden, at 81, looked tired, spoke with a raspy voice, was incoherent at times, and lost his train of thought on several occasions when speaking. Reports surfaced after the debate that Biden had a cold.

Trump, 78, on the left side of the split screen, spoke with confidence and clarity for the most part in his trademark brand of misrepresenting the truth.  CNN and other media outlets agreed after the debate that Trump lied or made more than 30 misleading claims during the debate, including that Nancy Pelosi turned down the opportunity for 10,000 National Guard troops to help squash the January 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol.  Biden reportedly voiced about nine false answers, including that no U.S. troops had been killed on his watch.

However, during the debate, Bash posed the following question to Biden: “While Black unemployment dropped to a record low under your presidency, Black families still earn far less than white families…Black Americans are imprisoned at five times the rate of White Americans.  What do you say to Black voters who are disappointed that you haven’t made more progress?”

“The fact of the matter is more small Black businesses have been started at any time in history under my administration,” Biden said in part. “Number two, Black unemployment is the lowest level it has been in a long, long time. Inflation is still hurting badly.”

“He caused the inflation,” said Trump.  “The fact is that his big kill on the Black people is the millions of people that he’s allowed to come in through the border. They’re taking Black jobs and taking Hispanic jobs.”

After the debate, U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) posted on X, “I still don’t understand the ‘Black job’ comment.  It would have been nice if there was a follow up to understand what he was trying to say.”  Omar stated that she had wanted CNN’s moderators to ask for clarification from Trump.

Many Democrats, however, believe the onus for checking Trump on this and his many other fabrications of the truth during the 90-minute debate should have been done by Biden, but he didn’t.

At the debate’s conclusion, political pundits flooded news outlets, spinning their takes on the historic event.  While Trump was accused of blatant fabrication through much of the debate, Biden was also criticized for his lackluster performance in perhaps one of the worst televised presidential debates in history. Some Democratic leaders called for Biden to bow out of the race because of his dismal showing and be replaced with another candidate to face Trump in November.

“I know I’m not a young man. I don’t walk as easily as I used to. I don’t talk as smoothly as I used to. I don’t debate as well as I used to, but I know what I do know: I know how to tell the truth,” a spirited Biden said at a North Carolina rally the night after his debate debacle but added that he’s looking forward to a second debate in September.  “I know how to do this job. And I know what millions of Americans know: When you get knocked down, you get back up.”

“Bad debate nights happen. Trust me, I know,” former president Barack Obama said, referencing his own underwhelming first debate in 2012 against GOP nominee Mitt Romney.  “But this election is still a choice between someone who has fought for ordinary folks his entire life and someone who only cares about himself.  Last night didn’t change that.”

Wayne County Commissioner and Chair of the 13th Congressional District Democratic Party, Jonathan C. Kinloch, told the Michigan Chronicle that he wasn’t surprised by Biden’s debate performance but still supports him for re-election.

“We cannot ignore the fact that President Joe Biden has run this country with a steady hand and has shown himself to be a better president than Donald Trump, who, in his time in office, left this country on the brink of financial destruction and despair,” said Kinloch.  “President Biden is our best choice for the next four years, and we will continue to do what we have been doing to explain to American voters about the good work he is doing and will continue to do for America.  While the optics of the president’s debate were challenging to watch, voters should look at his accomplishments, and the substance and truth in his message because that’s what matters most.”

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