Can Biden bounce back from first debate with Trump?

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President Joe Biden and his Republican opponent, former President Donald Trump, participated in their first debate Thursday night ahead of the upcoming election in November. Quickly, viewers began to take note of Biden’s delivery, which some described as “halting” and ineffective at addressing the debate topics at hand, frequently losing his train of thought during his answers.

Ultimately, the 81-year-old president’s performance in the debate disappointed many, triggering a sense of uncertainty and even panic about his mental acuity. This isn’t the first time Biden has been written off for his age — it was a big topic of concern in 2020 as well, when he was 78.

WTOP’s Michelle Basch spoke with CBS Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Margaret Brennan, about whether she thinks the president can bounce back from Thursday night.

Listen to or read the full interview below.

WTOP's Michelle Basch speaks with CBS Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Margaret Brennan.


Michelle Basch: It was a rough night, at times, for President Biden on stage, and it has triggered a wave of panic among some Democrats. Can you talk more about it here?

Margaret Brennan: You know, the Trump comments that everyone was prepared to fact check, they could do quite easily. A lot of what Donald Trump said are very familiar talking points that he goes through at his rallies. It surprised a lot of people that there wasn’t more engagement on that from the president, that Joe Biden didn’t fact check him or try to fact check him on the fly as aggressively as he could have, that there were missed opportunities there. And it wasn’t just the sort of scratchy voice that the White House attributed 45 minutes into the debate to a cold. It was losing his train of thought that really caused problems on key issues like abortion, which Democrats are really leaning heavily into as an issue that could cause enthusiasm and concern among voters that they’d show up at the ballot box. The president lost his train of thought trying to answer that very simple question on abortion when he rambled into talking about, you know, family members, then the border. And it was just a painful debate, at times, to watch, and makes people wonder, what about young voters as they watch this and see two men, one in his 80s, one shortly behind him, not really discuss some of the very serious issues in a substantive way?

Michelle Basch: Margaret, regardless of people’s thoughts on President Biden politically, and regardless of the election coming up, does this debate raise questions about the President’s ability to lead right now?

Margaret Brennan: Well, I haven’t heard anyone around the president say that they have concerns about his ability to do the work of the presidency. Certainly, the campaigning around the presidency is where you have heard some Democrats express anxiety. And after last night, the fact that there was this bar set of showing to the public that, at 81 years old, he could vigorously defend his four-year record and then project an image in an affirmative way for another four-year term. He caused concern by stumbling as he did, time and again. So, while Donald Trump, you know, was expected to misspeak, to not stick to fact, and then, by the way, said things like migrants are stealing “Black jobs.” What does that mean? He said that he wouldn’t, when asked repeatedly, commit to recognizing the results of the presidential election. He claimed a number of things. And this should have been more easily engaged on, and that is causing concerns among Democrats.

Michelle Basch: Of course, we’re waiting to find out who Donald Trump’s running mate will be. That’s one of the unanswered questions here. But what do you see happening next in the wake of this debate, on both sides?

Margaret Brennan: This was a debate that, all the pundits said, “oh, this is earlier than usual, our earliest ever to have it in June.” The Biden campaign wanted this. They wanted to force this conversation to call out Donald Trump on his bluffs, where he was, you know, going to rallies and saying Joe Biden won’t debate me because he’s not up to it. So, this was a conversation of their own choice, on terms that they negotiated with CNN, bypassing the Presidential Debate Commission. This was a choice they made. And so, now, trying to figure out who’s advising the president. Well, on this campaign, is the president aware of the perception of how he performed? Who would tell him that? I mean, there’s a lot of questions that arise after last night, and a lot of anxiety among Democrats going into the conventions this summer. With the Republican convention in a few weeks, the Democrats have a few more weeks into mid-August to make some decisions. But at this point, this may be Democratic hand-wringing. It is just so many — we’re in the early moments, but certainly, that next generation of Democrats, the Gavin Newsoms of California, the governor there, Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan, this young blood that the Biden campaign has leaned on to campaign for the president. People are starting to buzz once again about, “well, why aren’t we elevating the next generation to be at the top of the ticket in this moment? Why would we wait another four years?” Whether that actually happens, I think is a parlor game at this point.

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