The Democrats’ Confusion: ow the Presidential Debate Affects the US Election Race

The first presidential debate between President Joe Biden and former Republican President Donald Trump on June 27, 2024, focused on domestic issues important to American voters, such as the economy, illegal immigration, and abortion, as well as American foreign policy, particularly the US stance on the Russian war in Ukraine and the Israeli war in Gaza. The debate sparked widespread controversy over the candidates’ performance; some viewed Biden’s performance as “disappointing,” while others felt Trump appeared more steadfast during the ninety-minute debate.

Key Issues

Several internal issues were raised during the debate, alongside prominent foreign policy topics. Here are the highlights:

Candidates’ Stance on Accepting Election Results:

This issue gained prominence after the former president questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election, claiming it was stolen through fraud. President Joe Biden stated he would accept the election results regardless of their nature, calling Trump a “complainer” and doubting his willingness to accept the results. In contrast, Trump dodged the question initially, prompting the moderator to repeat it three times before he finally answered that he would accept the results if the election were “fair and free” without manipulation or fraud. This response suggests that the US might witness a scenario similar to January 6, 2021, when Trump rejected the election results and incited his supporters to attack the Capitol. Trump also accused former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of being responsible for the attack, claiming she rejected his offer to send 10,000 National Guard troops to protect the Capitol that day.

Blaming Each Other for the Economic Crisis:

The candidates fiercely debated this topic, with Biden portraying himself as more effective than Trump in reducing unemployment rates, especially among African Americans. He claimed, “The unemployment rate among blacks is at its lowest in a long time,” although CNN reported it was 6.1% in May 2024, compared to 4.8% in April 2023 and 5.3% in August 2019 during Trump’s presidency. Conversely, Trump argued that any job gains under Biden were due to the efforts of his own administration, not the current administration’s policies. Both candidates accused each other of causing inflation.

Democratic and Republican Division on Taxes:

Biden reiterated his view that the wealthy should pay their fair share of taxes to support social security programs. However, he did not provide a detailed plan on how to achieve this and assured that he would not raise social security costs for anyone earning less than $400,000 annually. Trump, on the other hand, highlighted his achievement of “the largest tax cut in history” through the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.”

Biden’s Failures in Handling Immigration:

Biden’s supporters believe he failed to highlight the administration’s efforts to regularize the status of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants by easing procedures for those with American spouses. Instead, he discussed a border security bill opposed by Trump and obstructed by congressional Republicans. He also criticized Trump’s policies of separating migrant children from their families. Trump used this issue to attack the administration’s handling of southern border security, labeling immigrants as “criminals” and claiming that allowing more immigrants, as Biden would, would “destroy social security and Medicare.”

Candidates Defend Their Stance on Abortion:

Trump maintained that states should decide whether to limit or allow abortions, accusing Democrats of wanting to “kill babies in the eighth or ninth month of pregnancy or even after birth” due to their proposed abortion laws. He also stated he would not ban access to abortion drugs. Biden stressed the need to protect abortion rights and refuted Trump’s claims of child-killing.

Biden’s Success in Lowering Drug Prices:

Biden highlighted his administration’s achievement of reducing drug prices through the Inflation Reduction Act, which lowered the cost of insulin to $15 per dose from $400. He said, “No senior citizen will have to pay more than $200 for any drug starting next year.”

Trump’s Accusations of Biden’s Racism Against Blacks:

Trump tried to portray Biden as racist, citing that Biden had called African Americans “super predators” for a decade in the 1990s. However, CNN debunked Trump’s claims, clarifying that Biden used the term to describe potentially criminal youths, particularly homeless individuals and children born out of wedlock. In reality, it was Hillary Clinton who used this term and apologized during her 2016 presidential campaign.

Trump’s Criticism of Biden’s Foreign Policy:

Trump criticized Biden’s foreign policy, arguing that his weakness and lack of respect from world leaders led to many international crises, including the Russian war against Ukraine and Hamas’s threat to Israeli security on October 7. Trump claimed that Biden’s administration’s release of frozen Iranian funds enabled Iran to support Hamas and other armed groups in the region, whereas his administration worked to cut off all revenue to Tehran.

Political Implications

The first presidential debate between the Republican and Democratic candidates highlighted several political implications:

Biden’s Age Reflecting on His Performance: Despite Biden’s attempts to defend his age by arguing it brought experience in dealing with US challenges, his performance showed signs of age-related impact. He lost focus while answering a question about national debt, pausing and struggling to complete his sentence. Biden stated, “We finally overcame Medicare,” likely referring to COVID-19.

Democratic Dissatisfaction with Biden’s Performance: Biden’s debate performance sparked wide reactions from Democrats, some of whom were discontented with his weak performance instead of being reassured. A Democratic strategist who worked on Biden’s 2020 campaign described the debate as a “disaster.” Biden’s lack of energy compared to his State of the Union address earlier this year, which gave Democrats some optimism about his campaign’s strength, was evident.

Biden’s performance raised questions about whether he should remain the party’s candidate in the presidential election, particularly given his age. He did not forcefully defend certain issues like abortion, where Democrats have an advantage, nor did he strongly address immigration and border management.

Division Over Former President’s Performance: Concerns were raised about Trump interrupting Biden during the debate as he did in their 2020 debate. However, Trump improved his image by adhering to debate rules, not interrupting Biden, and responding to criticisms of threatening American democracy by showing commitment to law and regulations if he lost the presidential election. He enhanced his image by reinforcing his main message and showing readiness for the debate, although some felt he did not present anything new to change the race’s dynamics.

After the debate, a CNN poll showed Trump received higher public approval, with 67% of respondents saying his performance was better compared to 33% for Biden. Before the debate, these figures were 55% for Trump and 45% for Biden.

Growing Pressure for Biden to Withdraw: Reports indicated that major American media outlets were pressuring Biden to withdraw from the election race to allow another Democratic candidate to compete with Trump. In contrast, reports revealed that Biden’s family urged him to continue the race after his “disastrous” debate performance. Prominent Democratic members and donors expressed frustration with how Biden’s advisors prepared him for the event, while Biden’s campaign team tried to reassure campaign funders questioning his candidacy and the need for continued donations after his debate performance.

Conclusion

Despite President Joe Biden’s modest performance in the first presidential debate and former President Trump’s lack of new positions on domestic issues, the debate will not be decisive in determining voters’ choices for the upcoming presidential election. With nearly four months until the presidential election and another debate scheduled, candidates will have the opportunity to address their weaknesses from the first debate. Additionally, potential internal or external developments over the coming months could significantly impact the US election race until voters head to the polls on November 5 to choose the next US president.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

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