'A huge embarrassment': Dreaded Biden-Trump debate kicks off US election season

'A huge embarrassment': Dreaded Biden-Trump debate kicks off US election season
Both candidates performed terribly in different ways — Trump for flagrantly untrue statements and Biden for his undeniable lack of energy.
4 min read
Washington, DC
28 June, 2024
Debate watch parties were held across Washington Thursday night. [Brooke Anderson/TNA]

The first presidential debate between incumbent Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump marked a milestone in the 2024 election season — a sign that the 5 November is just around the corner.

With Americans bracing for Biden to stammer and for Trump to lie, debate watch parties across the US capital were packed with spectators. Some offered games, such as debate bingo, in which players could fill in the squares when a certain topic, such as Gaza, the Supreme Court, reproductive rights, or inflation, came up in the debate. 

At the popular restaurant Busboys and Poets in Washington, the venue was standing room only, as customers leaned over the bar to watch the debate, and they drank their way through nearly two hours of uncomfortable exchanges between the former president who confidently made one incorrect statement after another and the incumbent who repeatedly stammered as he tried to refute Trump's claims.

Though Biden's staff reportedly said he was recovering from a cold, his performance was nevertheless difficult to watch as he delivered his words in a low voice, often mumbling. At times, he squeezed his eyes shut as he appeared to be gathering his thoughts.

Trump, by contrast, spoke quickly in a booming voice, without hesitating. Though much of what he said was inaccurate and greatly veered from the questions asked, his confidence easily overshadowed Biden's more measured approach, which under the lights and cameras often came across as unanimated, hesitant and uncertain.

Watching the debate at a loud and crowded venue only served to amplify these contrasts, with Trump's remarks coming through clearly and Biden's words generally too faint to hear through the noise in the room.

Biden did come to the table with several strongly worded statements, eliciting cheers and applause from a dedicated Washington audience. At the beginning of the debate, he vowed to protect women's reproductive rights. In another instance, he responded to Trump's past remarks referring to war veterans as suckers and losers, and turned to the former president, saying, "You're the loser."

Despite some occasional clever comeback lines, or zingers, characteristic of presidential debates, this one was largely incoherent. After the moderators asked questions, the candidates, usually Trump, would discuss a different subject than was asked, leading the moderators to repeat their questions multiple times.

In some cases, the debate veered bizarrely off course. In one instance, the two men went into unusual detail about their golf games, essentially handing their critics a self-parody of two wealthy white men with little in common or concern for the average American.
In another instance, Trump called Biden "a Palestinian" as a way of insulting him.

Before the debate even finished, news articles and commentary had already started to pour in about candidates' performances. The verdict was almost unanimous. Both candidates performed terribly in different ways — Trump for flagrantly incorrect statements and Biden for his undeniable lack of energy. All seemed to concur that Biden fell far short of what he needed to do Thursday night to win over voters.

Shortly after the debate ended, the restaurant emptied and attendees gathered outside, discussing amongst themselves what they had just witnessed.

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"I thought this was a huge embarrassment for our country to see these two elderly men, one Biden who looks like a corpse, I mean he looked like he looked like he could barely keep himself together during the debate, and Trump who lies every time he opens his mouth," Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink, a women-led anti-war advocacy group, told The New Arab, after the debate watch party.

"And you think of the 300 million people in this country and all the bright, young, inspiring politicians we have. To be stuck with these two losers is really depressing, and I think shows a collapse of our system," she said. She added that she was disappointed in the lack of substantive discussion on Gaza or US foreign policy in general during the debate.  

Kali Sen, a pro-Palestinian student activist who was also attending the watch party, was similarly despondent in the lack of discussion on Palestine as well as several other key issues.

"As most young people are feeling, we don't have a candidate that represents us," she told TNA. "There's a general sense that we're a failing state right now. There's a sentiment that our democracy is eroding."

She said, "Abortion is something Biden really could have won on. He didn't do anything on that either. It's just really disappointing."