Joe Biden and Donald Trump have faced off in the first debate in the 2024 presidential election campaign.

The format, with each taking turns to speak with their opponent’s microphone muted, was designed to prevent a shouting match with both candidates talking over each other.

In truth, it served to highlight the differences in the performances of the two men.

Joe Biden and Donald Trump during the presidential debate. Pic: Reuters

Mr Trump appeared confident, on the front foot and in command, even if his claims sometimes stretched the truth to breaking point.

Mr Biden on the other hand was hesitant, sometimes stumbling over his words and at one point appearing to freeze, less than 10 minutes into the debate.

The only time the US president appeared to land any blows was when he lost his temper and attacked Mr Trump and his “alley cat morals”.

After the debate, political figures and commentators broached the idea of replacing Mr Biden as the Democratic presidential nominee.

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Joe Biden appears to stall during debate

It’s “time to talk about an open convention and a new Democratic nominee,” one Democratic lawmaker told Sky’s US partner network NBC News.

Another said: “This was like a champion boxer who gets in the ring past his prime and needs his corner to throw in the towel.” The lawmaker also added that he meant Mr Biden should exit the race.

David Axelrod, a senior aide to former President Barack Obama, told CNN: “There is a sense of shock at how he came out at the beginning of this debate. How his voice sounded. He seemed a little disoriented.

“There are going to be discussions about whether he should continue. Only he can decide if he’s going to continue,” Mr Axelrod added.

Sky’s US correspondent Martha Kelner said some Democrats had described Biden’s debate performance as an “unmitigated disaster”, “a meltdown”, and “a slow-motion car crash”.

Read more:
Early debate was a huge gamble Biden may regret
The presidential debate as it happened

Changing candidates at this stage of the campaign would be difficult and unprecedented. Unless Mr Biden chooses to step aside, delegates at the Democratic National Convention would have to revolt – despite being elected on their pledge to nominate the president.

The debate mediators divided the time in to subjects, beginning with the economy.

Mr Trump claimed under his presidency the US had the “greatest economy in the history of our country”, only stalling when COVID struck.

Mr Biden hit back saying he inherited “an economy that was in freefall”.

“The pandemic was so badly handled… the economy collapsed,” he said.

“What we had to do is try to put things back together again. That’s exactly what we began to do.”

Early debate was a gamble Joe Biden may regret

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”.

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. 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.

“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.

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.

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.

For much of the debate, Mr Trump was forthright while President Biden, his voice hoarse, came across as hesitant.

On the issue of abortion, Mr Biden appeared to have slightly more success, describing the decision to overturn Roe v Wade as horrendous.

President Joe Biden, speaks during a presidential debate hosted by CNN with Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump, Thursday, June 27, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Pic: AP

“It’s been a terrible thing what you’ve done,” he told Trump.

For his part the former president said it was right for individual states to decide policy on abortion.

Next came immigration, previously something of a “trump” card for the former president.

Mr Biden was asked about his record.

“The Border Patrol endorsed me, endorsed my position,” he said, before turning on Mr Trump.

“He was separating babies from mothers, putting them in cages, making sure that the families are separated [when he was in office],” he said.

Mr Trump responded: “We have the largest number of terrorists coming into our country right now.”

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump attends the first presidential debate hosted by CNN in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., June 27, 2024. REUTERS/Marco Bello
Pic: Reuters

“That’s simply not true,” Mr Biden said.

“There’s no data to support what he said, once again, he’s exaggerating. He’s lying.”

Asked what he will do to address the crisis, Mr Trump said “we have to get them out” but didn’t specify any particular policy.

On Ukraine, Mr Trump was the first to answer, taking aim at Mr Biden’s handling of it.

“As far as Russia and Ukraine, if we have a real president, a president that was respected by Putin, then he would have never invaded Ukraine.”

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks during a presidential debate with President Joe Biden, Thursday, June 27, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Pic: AP

Asked what he thought of Mr Trump’s comments, Mr Biden replied: “I’ve never heard so much malarkey in my whole life.”

He warned that if Mr Putin wins the war there is a risk he will go after other countries like Poland and Belarus. However, the strength of his argument was undermined by appearing to confuse Mr Trump and President Putin at one point.

The Middle East was next, with Mr Biden saying the US had “saved Israel”, referencing the ongoing support from his government and the organised defence against a massive Iranian air attack.

President Joe Biden visits a presidential debate watch party.
Pic: AP

Trump however slammed his opponent’s handling of the crisis in the Middle East.

“He’s become like a Palestinian, but they don’t like him because he’s a very bad Palestinian. He’s a weak one,” he said.

Next came topics where Mr Biden genuinely had the chance to land some heavy blows: the Capitol riots and the litany of criminal cases facing Trump.

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The odd punch did hit home but – as throughout the debate – Mr Trump appeared in charge, confident in his own version of the truth. He repeatedly said he did nothing wrong, claiming any action he encouraged was to be carried out “peacefully and patriotically”.

Mr Biden retorted: “He encouraged his folks up on Capitol Hill.

“Now he says if he loses again, [he’s] such a whiner, it is basically [going to be] a bloodbath.”

Joe Biden embraces first lady Dr. Jill Biden after the conclusion of a presidential debate.
Pic: Reuters
Joe Biden embraces first lady Dr. Jill Biden after the conclusion of the presidential debate. Pic: Reuters

The only time Mr Trump appeared even slightly uncomfortable was when Mr Biden pointed out his recent criminal charges and called him a convicted felon.

“The only person on this stage that is a convicted felon is this man I’m looking at right now,” he said of the former president.

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The former president denies ‘sex with a porn star’, mentioned by Joe Biden in the first US presidential debate of 2024.

In one of his most forceful moments of the debate, Mr Biden referred to Mr Trump’s alleged sexual relationship with porn star Stormy Daniels, telling him: “You have the morals of an alley cat.”

The debate continued, covering racial inequality, climate change and the US opioid crisis, but in truth the optics varied little.

People attend a watch party for the first U.S. presidential debate hosted by CNN in Atlanta, at Union Pub on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Pic: Reuters
People at a watch party for the first presidential debate at Union Pub on Capitol Hill in Washington. Pic: Reuters

Mr Trump – a chin-jutting picture of arrogance and self belief. Mr Biden – often seeming to feel his age, only coming into his own when he lost his temper over what he clearly regarded as his opponent’s lies.

The debate revealed little of substance with regard to policy, with podcaster and analyst Tim Miller tweeting that it was “the worst debate in history”.

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Biden and Trump squabble about golf handicaps

The level of the debate was put into sharp relief with the two candidates defending their mental capabilities and squabbling about golf.

Taking a shot at Mr Biden, Mr Trump said the US president “can’t hit a ball 50 yards”.

Mr Biden replied, saying: “I’d be happy to have a driving contest with him.”

The hour and a half of to-and-fro is unlikely to have done Mr Trump any harm, but it may well have damaged President Biden.

As one observer pointed out, the problem for Joe Biden and the Democratic Party is “that Trump lies so well and Biden tells the truth so badly”.