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NULab Faculty Nick Beauchamp on the First Debate of the 2024 Election

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Reposted from Northeastern Global News

By Tanner Stening

President Joe Biden — his voice low and hoarse — stumbled through 90 minutes of his tightly controlled debate with former President Donald Trump, speaking rapidly and at times losing his train of thought.

While Biden, 81, appeared inarticulate at times, Trump, 78, dodged questions and spewed falsehoods with little opposition, says Costas Panagopoulos, head of Northeastern University’s political science department. 

The first presidential debate of the 2024 election took place according to new rules — muted microphones, no studio audience, no opening statements and two commercial breaks — which contributed to virtually no cross-talk or interruptions as the candidates answered questions.

Panagopoulos says neither candidate was particularly persuasive, a reflection of the low expectations for the clash — and the mood of the country.

“This debate will only cement the ‘none of the above’ sentiment across the country,” he says. 

“In debates, style can matter as much as substance,” Panagopoulos says. “Overall, it was hard to watch. Both candidates fell short, for different reasons.”

The proposed format for the debate was a departure from the norm in debates past. Neither candidate was allowed props or notes, only a pen, paper and water. The debate took place at CNN’s Atlanta headquarters. CNN anchors Jake Tapper and Dana Bash co-moderated.

“It sounded like Biden had a cold and, perhaps as a result, was sometimes incoherent, especially early in the debate,” Northeastern University political scientist Nick Beauchamp says. “Trump was also incoherent, jumping from thought to thought and frequently telling falsehoods.”

Beauchamp continues: “Both clearly detest the other, and both kept gravitating to insults and bombast rather than substance and policy. I’d say this was the worst presidential debate I’ve seen. It improved a bit in the second half, though even then there were many low-lights, such as the golf exchange.”

The last time a presidential debate was held absent a studio audience was in 1960, when the first televised debate between two candidates took place between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.

The topic of abortion prompted the first several jabs. 

Trump said he agreed with the Supreme Court’s decision to maintain access to mifepristone, the abortion pill, but lauded the overturning of Roe v. Wade, noting that the issue should have been returned to the states. Trump added that he believes in the exceptions for “rape, incest and life of the mother.”

Biden suggested that Trump would — with the help of a conservative majority in Congress — enact a national abortion ban, a move Biden said he would “veto” if it ever made it to his desk. 

The debate comes just weeks after Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, was convicted on federal gun charges — and nearly a month after Trump was convicted in a New York court on felony charges related to a hush-money payment made to porn star Stormy Daniels in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election.  

At the insinuation that Biden had engaged in any wrongdoing, the president went on the attack: “The only person on the stage that is a convicted felon is the man I’m looking at right now.”

But raising that fact came too late, Panagopoulos says. 

“There was no reason for Biden to wait 45 minutes to mention Trump is a convicted felon,” Panagopoulos says. 

Asked if he would accept the outcome of the 2024 election, Trump seemed to dodge, saying that “he wouldn’t even be here” if Biden was “a good president.” 

“In the end, I don’t think this debate will change much,” Panagopoulos says. “Neither candidate scored any major points or landed any knock-out punches, and all it did was reinforce both candidates’ main weaknesses: perceptions that Trump is a liar and that Biden is too old.”

He continues: “For many Americans, this election will come down to the choice they view as the lesser evil, metaphorically speaking.” 

In recent weeks, Biden had been prepping for the debate at Camp David, a presidential retreat located in Maryland that was the site of many historic diplomatic meetings. Ron Klain, one of the president’s top advisers, reportedly oversaw Biden’s debate preparation.

The race for the White House remains a close contest. A New York Times/Siena College poll released on Wednesday showed Trump with a four-point lead over Biden nationwide. Trump also has the edge in campaign funds, with $116.6 million in the bank at the end of May compared to Biden’s $91.6 million, according to Politico.

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