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Who Won the Debate? Biden Stumbles Left Trump on Top


In the first presidential debate of the year between the leading Democratic and Republican candidates, President Biden and former President Donald J. Trump clashed on inflation, taxes, Ukraine and the future of democracy.

A halting performance from Mr. Biden and a relatively steady and measured delivery by Mr. Trump left Democrats deeply concerned about Mr. Biden’s prospects. Personal attacks overshadowed discussions of policy during the debate, with the candidates sparring over who had a better golf game, their respective cognitive abilities and their legal problems.

On cable news and social media, strategists from both parties wondered if Mr. Biden could continue in the race against Mr. Trump. Few Democrats could muster an upbeat assessment of the president’s performance.

Here is a sampling of the reaction.

“It was a really disappointing debate performance from Joe Biden. I don’t think there’s any other way to slice it. His biggest issue was to prove to the American people that he had the energy, the stamina — and he didn’t do that,” Kate Bedingfield, Mr. Biden’s former White House communications director, said on CNN.

“Biden is even whiffing on his easy pitches — abortion and Jan. 6. I mean, my God,” said Matt Gorman, a Republican strategist and former senior adviser to the presidential campaign for Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina.

“Look, I debated Joe 7 times in 2020. He’s a different guy in 2024,” Andrew Yang, a Democratic presidential candidate in 2020, said on the social media platform X, adding the hashtag #swapJoeout.

“Former President Trump stuck to his factually-incorrect messaging points tonight but President Biden wasn’t capable of counteracting them in real time in a convincing way,” said Henrietta Treyz, managing partner and director of economic policy research at the consulting firm Veda Partners.

“The silver lining is that Trump provided a metric ton of problematic sound bites tonight and we can expect those to be used in ads on every medium from here to the moon over the next four months. Every woman in America will see ads on TV, mobile and on mailers reminding them of Trump taking credit for overturning Roe v Wade,” said Caitlin Legacki, a Democratic strategist and former adviser to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

“Joe Biden lost the country tonight, and will not get it back. If Trump is a threat and democracy is on the line, then Biden must step aside. His duty, oath and legacy require an act of humility and selflessness,” said Steve Schmidt, a former Republican political strategist who co-founded the anti-Trump Lincoln Project.

“It’s not about Biden’s policies or his record. It’s all about his performance tonight,” said Frank Luntz, a political consultant who said that none of the 13 undecided voters in his focus group moved toward Mr. Biden.

“The presidential debate was an astonishingly clarifying moment. President Biden’s confused, unfocused performance was catastrophic, a near total collapse which is sending prominent Democrats into a tailspin of panic. At the same time, President Trump was clearly dominant, recounting his policy successes, carefully crafting his responses and demonstrating a steady hand. President Trump walked away with the debate — and likely the election — last night,” said Monica Crowley, a Republican commentator who served in Mr. Trump’s Treasury Department.


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