Death warmed over: Trump vs. Biden is frighteningly predictable

Biden, delivering an uncharismatic performance, summoned more policy answers than the inflammatory Trump

Published June 27, 2024 10:06PM (EDT)

US President Joe Biden and former US President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump participate in the first presidential debate of the 2024 elections at CNN's studios in Atlanta, Georgia, on June 27, 2024. (ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Joe Biden and former US President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump participate in the first presidential debate of the 2024 elections at CNN's studios in Atlanta, Georgia, on June 27, 2024. (ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

No pleasantries as President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump skipped a traditional handshake, beginning the debate with a discussion of inflation, as opening statements were not an option.

Hosts Jake Tapper and Dana Bash of CNN went straight into questions, asking Biden what he would say to Americans who felt worse off under his presidency financially, despite rising wages.

“We had an economy that was in free-fall,” Biden said. “It was terrible. What we had to do was try to put things back together again.” 

Biden laid out his plan to build new housing and cut costs for Americans in a second term after overseeing a period of intense inflation, stumbling over his words before allowing Trump a chance to rebut.

“We had the greatest economy in the history of our country. We have never done so well . . . The only jobs he created were for illegal immigrants, and ‘bounceback jobs,'" Trump said of the more than 15 million jobs created during the Biden administration.

Turning the discussion to the national debt, Tapper asked the former president about his plan to add a 10% tariff to consumer goods, with Trump claiming that the move wouldn't raise prices, despite economic data suggesting otherwise. He attacked inflation under Biden instead, despite his inflationary plan.

“We’re like a third-world nation. Between going after his political opponent . . . all of the things he’s done . . . we’ve become like a third-world nation,” Trump said, before attacking millions of immigrants inside the United States.

On abortion, Trump, who appointed three of the justices who ended the right to abortion at a federal level, said that the Supreme Court "approved the abortion bill," referring to an emergency order to block an Idaho law that banned intervention if a mother's life was at risk. But he couldn't answer whether he would bring national abortion protections in the case of "exceptions" like rape or incest.

Trump again parrotted his claim that "everybody wanted" to destroy Roe v. Wade and kick abortion decisions back out to the states.

"Right now, the states control it. That's the vote of the people," Trump said. "I believe in the exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother. Some people don't."

Biden volleyed, saying that it was "a terrible thing, what you've done," to gut abortion protections.

"I support Roe v. Wade," Biden said. "If I'm elected, I will restore Roe v. Wade."

Trump responded to this by falsely claiming that his opponent supported ripping a baby out in the ninth month of pregnancy.

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Asked about immigration, Biden touted an uptick in security at the border during his term but emphasized that he wanted to push for more border patrol.

"I really don't know what he said at the end of that sentence," Trump said, ripping into Biden's stumble over his words. He went on to champion the "safest border in American history" at the end of his term, before claiming that "people are dying."

Pressed on his domestic deportation squad proposal, Trump dodged the question and instead brought up a purported crime uptick related to immigration. 

"They're killing our citizens at a level that we've never seen before," Trump said. "We have to get them out fast, because they're destroying our country."

Never answering the question, Trump, who previously publicly disrespected war heroes like John McCain for their service, then slammed Biden as "anti-military."

"My son was not a loser or a sucker," Biden said. "You're the sucker."

Trump rebuffed the claim that he called veterans suckers and losers.

Asked about Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Trump claimed that Biden was responsible for many deaths.

"Our veterans and soldiers can't stand this guy," Trump said of his opponent.

Trump also claimed that the Hamas attack on Israel wouldn't have happened under his leadership, a claim to which Biden rebutted, "I've never heard so much malarkey in my life."

Joe BidenUS President Joe Biden looks down as he participates in the first presidential debate of the 2024 elections with former US President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at CNN's studios in Atlanta, Georgia, on June 27, 2024. (ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)On the humanitarian crisis in Gaza created by Israel's war effort, Biden outlined his three-phase solution to end the conflict, blaming Hamas for the continued killings.

"I'm the guy that organized the world against Iran," Biden said. "We saved Israel. We are the biggest producer of support for Israel of anyone in the world."

Trump repeated his proclamation that the U.S. should "let them [Israel] finish the job," rather than endorse a ceasefire plan of his own.

On his criminal conviction, Trump was unflinching and defiant on the verdict issued by a Manhattan jury.

“When he talks about ‘convicted felon,’ his son is a convicted felon,” Trump said. “This man is a criminal. You’re lucky. I did nothing wrong. We have a system that is rigged.”

“The idea that you have the ability to seek retribution against every American just because you are president is wrong,” Biden said, blasting reports that Trump would seek "retribution" against political opponents before bringing up Trump's reported moral deficiencies and pattern of sexual abuse.

“You have the morals of an alley cat,” Biden said, bringing up Trump’s sexual assault of E Jean Carroll and relationship with porn actress Stormy Daniels.

“The public knows it's a scam,” Trump said, accusing Biden of political weaponization of the justice system.

Biden responded, reminding voters of the reason he gave ahead of the 2020 election for his decision to run.

Trump smugly shook his head and grinned as Biden detailed the political violence of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, and later said he “made up” the story of his decision to run for president.

“It’s a nonsense story. He knows that,” Trump said.

Asked what he would do to combat the opioid crisis, Trump dodged another answer, instead claiming that Biden was “paid by China.”

Re-directed by Tapper, Trump instead discussed the border and supposed drug trafficking, rather than addiction.

In response, Biden brought up aspects of his bipartisan infrastructure deal, which was killed by House and Senate Republicans at the behest of Trump, which would’ve scanned more fentanyl moving across the border

Asked about the crucial age issue, Biden recalled charges at the beginning of his career that he was too young, and asked that voters focus instead on the pair’s record.

“Look at the record. Look at what I’ve done,” Biden asked of voters. “The idea that, somehow, we are this failing country, I’ve never heard a president talk like this before.”

Trump, 78, brought up his cognitive test results — and his golf accolades — in response to questions about his own age.

“I'm in as good a shape as I was 20, 25 years ago,” Trump said.

But Biden’s age was unavoidable, with reactions pouring in on the president’s signs of age on the debate stage. 

Political commentator Chris Cillizza reacted, like many, to Biden’s verbal trips and meanders.

“It’s hard to imagine this debate starting worse for Biden,” the CNN alum wrote on X.

Equally hard to avoid was Donald Trump’s record of election denial.

Trump refused to accept the results of the 2024 election, citing debunked reports of fraud in the 2020 race again.

“You continue to promote this lie,” Biden rebutted.  “There’s no evidence of that at all . . . you’re such a whiner.”

After a brutal 90 minutes, the duo headed into closing statements, with Biden going first.

“We’ve made significant progress from the debacle that was left by President Trump in his last term,” Biden said.

Going toe-to-toe on policy proposals, Biden touted his economic record and blasted his opponent’s plans. 

“He now wants to tax you more by putting a 10% tariff on everything that comes into the United States,” he said, repeating his proposals on childcare, lead pipe removal and tax relief for lower-income families.

“We got it down to, $15, excuse me, $35 for insulin, instead of $400. No more than $2,000 for every senior no matter the prescription they need.

“He doesn’t do anything. All he does is make our country unsafe by allowing millions and millions of people to pour in,” Trump shot back.

“We have the Palestinians and we have everybody else rioting all over the place,” Trump said of peaceful protests against the Israeli bombing of Gaza. “You talk about Charlottesville? This is 100 times Charlottesville. 1000 times.”

While a white supremacist terrorist killed one in the Charlottesville march, nobody has died as a result of pro-Palestinian demonstrations in the United States.

“They don’t respect you,” Trump said.

Trump championed the tax and regulation cuts he pushed in office, before concluding, saying: “We’re in a failing nation, but it’s not going to be failing anymore.”

By Griffin Eckstein

Griffin Eckstein is a News Fellow at Salon. He is a student journalist at New York University, having previously written for the independent student paper Washington Square News, the New York Post, and Morning Brew.

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