This was an extraordinary evening.

Joe Biden‘s debate performance was among the worst by any presidential candidate in history, if not the worst.

It was an “unmitigated disaster”, “a meltdown”, and “a slow-motion car crash”.

Pic: Reuters

Read more: In command Trump and stumbling Biden face off in first presidential debate

Those are not descriptors from Republican voters, they are the words of Democrats. Even former aides of President Biden admit it was a really horrible night for him.

I was literally gripping the sides of my seat at times it was so excruciating.

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Biden appears to stall during debate

Team Biden hoped to see State of the Union Joe on the stage, when the president gave a slick, impassioned and well-delivered speech.

Right from the start it became apparent this would be an entirely different version of him. His voice was hoarse, he was stumbling and there were long pregnant pauses.

I was struck by how much older he looked than the last time he was in the same room as Donald Trump four years ago.

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“We finally beat Medicare,” he said with a misspeak that is sure to go viral, a sentence that does not make sense and was pounced upon by Donald Trump.

Biden was asked by the debate moderator about abortion, one of the strongest issues for the Democratic Party, a subject where he has the opportunity to really nail Donald Trump to the wall.

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The former president denies ‘sex with a porn star’

He somehow managed to ramble his way off-topic to talk about immigration, one of his biggest vulnerabilities. It was an open goal missed in spectacular style.

The debate descended near the end into a row between two senior citizens about who had a lower golf handicap and who could drive the ball further.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden visit a presidential debate watch party.
Pic: AP
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden at a presidential debate watch party. Pic: AP

It summed up the quality, or lack thereof, of this debate. It might have been funny if it weren’t so depressing for American voters.

It is hard to believe that President Biden fought for this debate at this time, the earliest there has ever been.

His team calculated that, given he was trailing Trump in the polls and there were growing questions about his age and vitality, it was a risk worth taking.

But it was a huge gamble, given that this format is so exposing on the national stage. It could well be a gamble they come to regret.