The Highlights And Lowlights (Only Lowlights, Really) Of That First Debate

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - JUNE 27: U.S. President Joe Biden (R) and Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. President Donald Trump participate in the CNN Presidential Debate at the CNN Studios on June 27, 2024 in Atl... ATLANTA, GEORGIA - JUNE 27: U.S. President Joe Biden (R) and Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. President Donald Trump participate in the CNN Presidential Debate at the CNN Studios on June 27, 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia. President Biden and former President Trump are facing off in the first presidential debate of the 2024 campaign. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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There are just over four months to Election Day and, as the expectation-setters did not tire of telling us, this was our first time seeing Donald Trump and Joe Biden side by side since 2020. And hoo boy. 

If you did not watch it yourself, congratulations. Here are some elements that stood out to us. 

It was a complete disaster

This was far and away the primary thing that stood out. The debate format let Trump flood the stage with nonsense and lies. Biden and the moderators did little to respond.

Throughout most of the first half of the night, Biden sounded old and hoarse. His voice was faint and his sentences were often muddled, disrupted by him struggling to find the right words on several occasions. 

It was difficult to watch Trump sound so much more energetic — and what many will likely describe as competent — when every other answer he gave to CNN’s questions was a lie.

As Trump spoke, the cameras captured Biden with a flat expression, seemingly staring into the distance. His campaign hurried to tell reporters the President had a cold. 

The second half was a somewhat different story. Biden at times picked up the pace and was much more forceful with his answers. 

That brings us back to the format. 

Having Trump on air — and in a presidential debate at that — without actively fact checking him was far from ideal. It ended up feeling like an opportunity for the moderators to simply indulge Trump’s well-known penchant for advancing a delusional view of reality.


During a back and forth between the two candidates, Trump repeatedly claimed that under Roe v. Wade, women could and were having abortions at nine months, and even after. 

Now, after listening to Trump’s many ridiculous claims, it’s hard to resist the urge to emphasize what is hopefully already well known: no one has late-term abortions sans a serious medical emergency. Babies are not being killed after being born. 

The questions didn’t help. As TPM’s Kate Riga wrote, “CNN asking Biden if he supports late-term abortions is playing directly into the anti-abortion movement’s hands.”

It might as well be a question about The Loch Ness Monster…


Halfway through the debate, Trump was asked what he meant when he said he has “every right to go after his political opponents” after he was convicted of 34 felonies in the New York hush money trial. 

At first, he avoided the question, saying, “Well, I said my retribution is going to be success. We’re going to make this country successful again because right now it’s a failing nation.”

But as he kept rambling on, things took a menacing turn. He sure did sound like he was threatening Biden and his son Hunter. 

“He could be a convicted felon as soon as he gets out of office,” Trump said of the president. “Joe could be a convicted felon with all of the things that he’s done. He’s done horrible things.”

Trump also made his standard claim that Biden went after his political opponent, Trump, because he wanted to hurt Trump’s chances of getting re-elected — a bout of projection for those who remember back to Trump’s first impeachment in 2019.

“It’s a guy that’s after his political opponent because he can’t win fair and square,” Trump said.

He also did his usual round of attacks on the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and Judge Juan M. Merchan, calling the latter a “terrible” and “horrible” judge.

“I did nothing wrong,” he added. “We have a system that was rigged and disgusting.”

Trump’s dodge on accepting the election results

Trump, unsurprisingly but ominously, avoided answering the very simple question of whether or not he would accept the results of the election. In fact, moderator Dana Bash had to ask him the very same question three separate times to finally get a vague answer. It was darkly evasive.

“If it’s a fair and legal and good election, absolutely,” Trump finally told Bash. He added, referencing the non-existent voter fraud of 2020, that he would have “much rather accepted” that election, “but the fraud and everything else was ridiculous.” 

But Trump has been consistent about his unwillingness to unequivocally say that he will accept the results of the election. 

Just last month, for example, he similarly told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he would accept the 2024 results “if everything is honest” and that if not “you have to fight for the right of the country.”

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Notable Replies

  1. Avatar for grack grack says:

    I wasn’t watching but was hoping for a realtime rundown here in the hive. What happened with the website was very disappointing. Cat.

  2. What a relief, I didn’t watch it. The mere idea of his mouth moving makes me ill.

  3. Yes, President Biden was not on his A-game last night.

    I was astounded at the Joy Reid and Nicole Wallace reaction. Reid obviously doesn’t “like” Biden at all and wants a replacement candidate. It was “Dems in Disarray” with Reid and Wallace until Lawrence O’Donnell made some very astute points to paint the picture of Convict Donald Trump and his upcoming sentencing on July 11th.

    America has a choice this November. Yes, old, Joe Biden; or Madman Donald Trump.

    As Gavin Newsome said last night, “We need to have Joe Biden’s back.”

  4. Trump’s “dodge” on accepting the election. Seriously, do we not yet know how to translate Trump-ese? It’s not a dodge folks. It’s how Trump says “I will accept the results of this election if and only if I win it.”

    When Ralph Kramden got mad at Alice he didn’t say “I’m mad at you, Alice.” He said, “You’re gonna go to the moon!” It meant “I’m mad at you, Alice.” Everybody knew that. How is it that we can’t collectively say that Trump was saying “No, I absolutely will not accept the results of the election if Biden wins it, in fact I will try again violently to overthrow the government”?

  5. If one was going to be a disaster, better the first one. John Kerry had a pretty good debate performance the first time up, and did not matter at all.

    Yes people generally forget that quickly.

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