Biden and Trump exchange barbs during debate; RFK Jr. responds

President Biden and former President Trump faced off Thursday night in Atlanta in their first and perhaps only debate of the 2024 presidential election.

The high-stakes event was defined from the start by a faltering performance from Biden, while Trump also leaned toward some positions that risk turning off swing voters.

Here are five takeaways from the debate:

1. A disastrous opening for Biden sets the tone

The president stumbled several times in the first minutes of the debate, stumbling over his words and appearing hoarse, apparently from a cold.

In one of his first responses, he concluded unintentionally by declaring: “We have finally defeated Medicare.”

Trump immediately rushed in.

” He is right. “He beat Medicare, he beat it to death,” Trump said.

Later in the debate, Trump mocked Biden for his rambling answers.

“I really don’t know what he said at the end of that sentence. I don’t think he knew what he said either,” Trump said.

Biden finally found his voice and confronted Trump on a litany of issues, including his positions on abortion and NATO in the context of the Ukraine-Russia war.

“This guy makes no sense for American democracy,” Biden said.

Still, the president was surprised by the debate’s split screen, wide-eyed, often seen off-camera as his opponent crossed attack lines and looked like he was struggling to keep up.

2. Sparks over abortion and immigration signal coming attacks

Biden, in one of his most powerful moments of the debate, vowed to restore Roe v. Wade and criticized Trump for appointing three of the Supreme Court justices who voted to overturn it.

Trump retorted that Biden and the Democrats wanted to “rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month and kill the baby.”

“That’s simply not true,” Biden retorted. “We are not for late-term abortion. Period.”

Democrats successfully focused on abortion in the 2022 elections and hope to mobilize voters on the issue again this year.

For his part, Trump’s responses about referring the issue to the states and promoting his judicial appointments will only serve to fuel the Democrats.

In a particularly pointed attack, Trump lashed out at Biden over the crisis at the southern border, saying the president was allowing people to enter the United States from “jails, prisons and mental institutions.”

“They call it a crime against migrants. I call it a crime against Biden migrants,” Mr. Trump said.

3. Trump dodges January 6 and fends off the attack of the “losers”

Trump initially dodged when confronted about his comments seeking to undermine the results of the 2020 election that led to the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot and questions about whether it violated his oath of office.

“On January 6, we had a big border, no one crossed it. On January 6, we were energy independent,” he said, touting lower taxes and fewer regulations.

Gesturing toward Biden, Trump added: “And then he walks in, and we’re laughed at, we’re a bunch of stupid people. »

Pressed to answer the question, Trump said: “I said peacefully and patriotically.”

Trump World is bracing for a Supreme Court decision any day on whether the former president is immune from federal prosecution for his efforts to undermine the election results before the 6 January.

Asked Thursday night whether he would accept the results of the 2024 election, Trump said: “If the election is fair, legal and good, absolutely.”

Biden has made a concerted effort to portray Trump as a man with no respect for democratic institutions or law enforcement, citing January 6 as a perfect example.

During another part of the debate Thursday, Trump was put on the defensive when Biden brought up his 2018 comments calling dead soldiers buried in France “losers” and “suckers.”

Trump has repeatedly denied making the remarks, but Biden showed he was sharpening his line of attack, telling Trump: “You’re the sucker, you’re the loser.”

4. Age questions linger for Biden; legal challenges loom for Trump

Biden’s performance in Thursday’s debate will energize discussions among Democrats about whether he should continue to carry the party’s torch ahead of the party’s convention and into November.

“I think you’re going to hear some discussions, which I don’t know will lead to anything…there will be some discussions about whether he should continue,” former Obama strategist said , David Axelrod, during a CNN roundtable immediately after the debate.

While age issues will occupy discussions about Biden in the coming days, the debate also underscored the reality that the party’s other major nominee remains mired in legal troubles that won’t go away anytime soon.

Biden criticized Trump as the only person on stage who has been convicted of a crime and forced Trump to deny salacious allegations of his hush money affair.

In a sign of the lingering potential damage from Thursday’s debate, Vice President Kamala Harris took to CNN Thursday night to defend Biden’s performance.

“Yes, the beginning was slow, but the ending was strong,” she said.

5. A victory for debate moderators

Thursday’s debate was the first in more than three decades to be organized without the intervention of the commission that has organized presidential debates since 1988.

Concerns about the widespread muting of microphones were largely forgotten, and the candidates were content to let everyone express their ideas without being interrupted. On several occasions, the moderators even pointed out that the candidates had more speaking time available.

It was a marked contrast to the first debate between Trump and Biden in 2020 and placed more emphasis on the content of the candidates’ remarks.

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