4 takeaways from the first presidential debate (2024)

4 takeaways from the first presidential debate (1)

President Biden and former President Donald Trump participate in the first presidential debate of the 2024 elections at CNN's studios in Atlanta on June 27. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

If some people who listened to the radio in 1960 thought Richard Nixon won the presidential debate with John F. Kennedy, then maybe people reading the transcript of Thursday night’s match-up would think President Biden won.


But elections aren’t won in transcripts. The reality is, fairly or not, debates are often about optics — how the candidates present themselves, defend their records and parry attacks.


Fact check: What did Biden and Trump claim about immigration in the debate?

And that’s why so many Democrats are ringing the fire alarms after the first general-election presidential debate of 2024. The Biden campaign said the president had a cold to explain why he sounded so hoarse and weak. But Biden’s stumbles right from the beginning played into his biggest vulnerability — his age and whether the 81-year-old is up to the challenge of handling four more years in office.

There were issues for Trump, too, as he continued to spread falsehoods and bathe in the kinds of conspiratorial grievances that have turned off many voters.

Not much has changed the dynamics of this race; will anything that happened Thursday night make a difference either?

Here are four takeaways from the first Biden-Trump debate of this campaign:

1. First and foremost, let’s talk about the elephant in the room – Democrats have to be wondering if they’d be better off with someone else as their nominee.

Neither candidate is the official nominee yet. The national political conventions haven’t happened — but it’s next to impossible that Democrats would replace Biden.

Still, given he delivered the kind of performance Democrats feared, party leaders, strategists and many voters, frankly, had to be wondering during this debate what it would be like if any of a handful of other Democrats were standing on that stage.

Biden got a bit stronger as the debate went on, especially on foreign policy. He had some one-liners, like calling Trump a “whiner” when Trump wouldn’t definitively say that he would accept the results of the 2024 election. But Biden often wasn’t able to show vigor or consistently convey what he wanted to say. He simply couldn’t deliver the kinds of happy-warrior blows with that toothy smile audiences have seen from Biden in years past.

“Sometimes the spin don’t spin,” one Democratic strategist texted midway through the debate when asked for reaction.

2. If how Biden sounded wasn’t bad enough, the visuals might have been equally as bad.

An important rule of thumb for candidates — and moderators — in debates is to be conscious of how things look, of how you look, of what people are seeing at home. And what people saw — and this was predictable — was a split screen.


What to know about the key policies that got airtime in the presidential debate

Biden wasn’t able to use that to his advantage at all, even as Trump doled out falsehood after falsehood. Instead, he looked genuinely shocked and confused, which is never a good look.

Trump and his base might not care about late-night comedy, but this week’s monologues are going to sting Democratic voters.

3. The format — and hands-off moderators — benefited Trump.

The muting of the candidates was likely intended to make the debate calmer and not allow Trump to run roughshod over the moderators or his opponent. But it had the effect of making Trump seem more sedate than usual.

Trump employed rounds of verbal jujitsu, in which he threw back his own vulnerabilities and directed them toward Biden. He was even able at one point, during a strange exchange about golf handicaps, to say, “Let’s not act like children.”

The moderation, or lack thereof, also allowed Trump to spread falsehoods and hyperbole without being interrupted or corrected. CNN indicated before the debate that the moderators were not going to play a strong role in fact checking the candidates, and they lived up to that.

They left it to the candidates, essentially, and with Biden unable to deliver in real time and the moderators declining to, the audience was left with a salad bowl full of rotten eggs and moldy lettuce that passed for facts.

Fact check: What did Biden and Trump claim about immigration in the debate?

4. This debate might not move the needle much, if at all.

Despite Biden’s struggles, which will understandably get the headlines, Trump had some difficult moments, too, especially in the second half of the debate.

In addition to spreading myriad falsehoods, he did little to credibly defend his conduct on and before the Jan. 6 siege on the Capitol; he used the kind of hyperbolic and vituperative language that has long turned off swing voters; and showed why many are concerned about some of his positions on the issues, especially on abortion and how the U.S. should be represented on the world stage.

So despite Biden’s shortcomings, millions will still likely vote for Biden, anyway, because he’s not Trump.

The bottom line is: Americans have said they are unhappy with their choices, and, in this – the biggest moment of the 2024 presidential campaign yet — it was clear why.

4 takeaways from the first presidential debate (2024)


What was the first presidential debate on the radio? ›

Candidates already used radio to communicate with the public, but the 1948 Dewey-Stassen Republican debate was the first presidential primary debate transmitted on the medium.

How many views did the presidential debate get? ›

While still a sizable TV audience, it represents sharp drop in viewership from the first Biden-Trump debate in 2020, which drew 73 million viewers.

When was the last presidential election? ›

The 2020 United States presidential election was the 59th quadrennial presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 3, 2020.

What was the first presidential debate? ›

1960 Kennedy–Nixon debates

The first general election presidential debate was 1960 United States presidential debates, held on September 26, 1960, between Senator John F. Kennedy, the Democratic nominee, and Vice President Richard Nixon, the Republican nominee, at CBS's WBBM-TV in Chicago. It was moderated by Howard K.

What is the point of presidential debates? ›

At their best, debates test a candidate's coolness under pressure and ability to articulate some thought at least vaguely connected to the question while convincing the viewers that he or she is both personable and serious.

What is the most famous presidential debate? ›

In terms of Nielsen household TV ratings, Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy's presidential debates in 1960 dominate Nielsen's top 10 ranking. The two candidates' October 13, 1960 debate, which drew 61% of all U.S. television households, claimed the top household rating of any presidential debate.

How many president debates are there in 2024? ›

The first general election debate, sponsored by CNN, was attended by presumptive nominees Joe Biden and Donald Trump. It was held on June 27, 2024. The second debate, which will be sponsored by ABC, is scheduled to be held on September 10, 2024.

How many people watched the presidential debate on CNN? ›

CNN's Thursday night debate between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump was watched by 51.27 million viewers on television, according to Nielsen data. The 90-minute debate, which sent shockwaves through the political world, was simulcast across 22 networks.

Has a president ever been elected 3 times? ›

Roosevelt won a third term by defeating Republican nominee Wendell Willkie in the 1940 United States presidential election. He remains the only president to serve for more than two terms.

Which president was elected in year ending in 0? ›

Kennedy. He was elected in 1960 and assassinated in 1963. Two later Presidents elected in "0" years: Ronald Reagan (1980), survived an assassination attempt and George W. Bush (2000), who also survived an assassination attempt.

Who was the last 4 term president? ›

The fourth inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt as president of the United States was held on Saturday, January 20, 1945. This was the 40th inauguration and marked the commencement of the fourth and final term of Franklin D. Roosevelt as president and the only term of Harry S.

What was the first election to be broadcasted over the radio? ›

November 2, 1920

Under the call sign KDKA, Pittsburgh's Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company transmitted the first scheduled broadcast on Nov. 2, 1920. KDKA's Leo Rosenberg announced live returns of the Presidential election between Warren G. Harding and James Cox.

Who was the first president to give a speech on radio? ›

On December 6, 1923, President Calvin Coolidge took one small step for a president and one huge leap for digital communications at the White House. On this day in history, President Coolidge became the first president to address the American people on broadcast radio.

When was the first time a president spoke on radio? ›

Warren G. Harding, the United States' 29th president who held office from 1921 until he died in 1923, was the first president to deliver a radio address. He addressed the nation at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial on May 30, 1922, an address that served as the day's equivalent of the State of the Union address.

Who was the first president to make a radio broadcast _____? ›

Final answer: Calvin Coolidge was the first president to make a radio broadcast.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Moshe Kshlerin

Last Updated:

Views: 6379

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (57 voted)

Reviews: 80% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Moshe Kshlerin

Birthday: 1994-01-25

Address: Suite 609 315 Lupita Unions, Ronnieburgh, MI 62697

Phone: +2424755286529

Job: District Education Designer

Hobby: Yoga, Gunsmithing, Singing, 3D printing, Nordic skating, Soapmaking, Juggling

Introduction: My name is Moshe Kshlerin, I am a gleaming, attractive, outstanding, pleasant, delightful, outstanding, famous person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.