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Special Edition Weekender: Rematch of the Political Centurions


  • 6.7: Biden’s golf handicap according to the United States Golf Association; 4.2 points more than Trump’s recorded handicap
  • 19.9%: The rate inflation has been up during Biden’s term
  • 35.5: The number of minutes Biden spoke; 30 seconds less than Trump
  • 67%: The percentage of debate watchers who believe Trump won the debate
  • 129: The number of days until the election
  • 159: The combined age of Trump and Biden

Setting the Stage

Years of preparation for a two-hour performance. Months of rallying to debate without an audience. Felony convictions versus mental fortitude. Personal attacks amid high-impact policy issues. Voters who don’t support either candidate; voters who will merely vote against the other guy. The eyes of Americans, global allies and foes alike, and the rest of the world all affixed to the screen. The stage has been set – and the stakes could not be higher.

For the first time in American history, two presidents debated each other in front of a national audience last night as they each seek their second term. As inflation rises, wars rage, abortion rights teeter, and immigration persists, the differences in each candidates’ policy agendas were laid out, officially bringing the presidential campaign to the forefront of the American populace.

Trump: Keeping the Beast on a Leash

Last night’s debate was by far former President Trump’s largest audience since exiting the White House in 2020. From the January 6 riots to his felony conviction to his adoration of inflammatory remarks, Trump certainly felt the weight of his need to convince more than his devoted base that he deserves a second term in the Oval Office. After weeks of meeting with advisors, debate coaches, Senators, and political professionals, Trump has been encouraged incessantly to stay on the issues and keep personal attacks to a minimum.

In a monumental rise to the occasion, former President Trump brought the coolest head he’s ever had on the campaign trail. Although Trump still took the easy shots at Biden when he fumbled his words, he was arguably the most mature he has ever been on a debate stage.

At face value, the new rules of having no audience, muting microphones, and instituting time restraints would seemingly hurt Trump. Rather, he basked in their glow. With no live cheering to egg him on, Trump was liberated from his typical need to seek the cheers. The fear of being cut off allowed him to flex his ability to be concise and thoughtful. For someone who loves the limelight, Trump was delicately nimble restricting his remarks to fit within the bounds of the 60-second limitation.

Trump balanced his borderline-outlandish charisma with remaining on-topic to focus on the issues and (mostly) deft bridging to attacks on his opponent. His advisors must have been proud of their ability to do the seemingly impossible: reign him in. He put forth an incredible showing during the first half of the debate, focusing on policy agendas, the strength of his administration, and his plans for another four years in the Oval Office. During the second half, he relied more heavily on the fire-branded rhetoric voters have come to expect from him but did not exceed anything outside of the bounds of the new norms of civility – a win for his campaign.

While Trump did not shy away from manufacturing his own truths when he didn’t have the statistics and policies to back his positions, his more respectful approach may serve to win over undecided voters. Especially in the context of a poor performance by President Biden.

Biden: Struggling to Make the Points

Aside from his handling of the conflict in Gaza, President Biden walked onto the debate stage with a Democrat’s legislative dream record during his tenure in office. Still, he entered the arena with a familiar albatross about his neck: his age. To swing the pendulum in his favor, President Biden needed a strong, confident showing last night.

That, as proven, was asking too much. His performance had all the right pieces; he had the data, talking points, subtle attacks, legislative successes, and so much more; by all accounts, Biden had the ingredients on the counter. His floundering presentation, however, kept him from serving the dish he needed to deliver. During the beginning of the debate, Biden struggled to find the right words at times and even had some straight-up uncomfortable moments of confusion.

It was a rough first half for him.

Surprisingly, as the debate ramped up and President Trump inevitably initiated the passionate calls to emotion in which he thrives, Biden found some footing, even if only for a few moments, to shine with a handful of one-liners. He met Trump’s intensity with clarity of thought at points in the second half.

After the 45-minute mark, Biden was relentless in breaking through his raspy breath. He responded to Trump’s low jabs with concrete examples of the wins of his Administration. After Biden called on the importance of presidential rhetoric with “the idea that we are this failing country; I’ve never heard a president talk like this before,” Trump immediately responded to claim he won golf championships in the past few years. Biden wasn’t afraid to tee up against Trump on battles of wit: “I’m happy to play golf with you if you carry your own bag.”

Biden’s performance caused a shudder through Democratic circles. On CNN’s post-debate panel, stalwart Biden defenders like Van Jones and David Axelrod couldn’t deny the President’s performance was not what it needed to be. Democratic Members of Congress were (without attribution) texting reporters and anchors with worry Biden will drag down the whole ticket – fueling an unprecedented open discussion about whether Biden should step aside.

One event seldom dictates the outcome of an election, but it can alter the complexion of a race. We may have seen such an event last night.

On The Issues

Inflation and the Economy

While rampant inflation and an unstable economy is the top issue for the American people and headlined the debate, little was solved last night. The economic discussion was a ping-pong battle where each blamed each other for the country’s current outlook. Trump claimed that Biden had sunk the U.S. economy with his policymaking, and Biden asserted that Trump left him nothing to work with from his handling of COVID-19. To be fair to both candidates, the economy is not only hugely impactful to voters, but an exceedingly difficult issue to message effectively. Still, both missed an opportunity to resonate with consumers with actual solutions to inflation as the cost of everything continues to rise week by week.


President Biden’s political savvy paid dividends on immigration by bringing in his bipartisan border package and its backing of the U.S. Border Patrol to do the majority of his heavy lifting for him. With more legislative experience and success on the issue, Biden began the segment on the high ground.

Trump, with little to show for his legislative accomplishments on immigration, reminisced his fiery remarks on immigrants that started his momentum way back in 2016 and doubled down on claiming all immigrants are criminals. In a night of a largely calm and collected Trump, he was certainly the most animated on the immigration issue – tapping into his tried-and-true method of “getting the people going.”

Foreign Policy

In an era where U.S. allies find themselves in the grasp of war, the presidential role of Commander-in-Chief is top of mind for all Americans. Given that both engagements in Ukraine and Gaza started during President Biden’s term, he was bound to be on his heels from the get-go. President Trump claimed, “soldiers like me more,” and attacked Biden for his handling of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Trump, asserting Biden’s incompetence in the war in Ukraine, said “I will have that war settled as president-elect before I take office.” Biden underscored that the real threat of Russia is that it will not settle its aggression in Ukraine as it hopes to invade other eastern European countries; therefore, strategic thinking is more important than a sudden ceasefire – something policy wonks will understand, but may not resonate with voters.

Abortion Rights

President Trump called on the power of the states to serve as the guardians of abortion access while exclaiming his support for abortion in cases of rape and incest. While he could have ended his policy position there, he attempted to rile up his base by mentioning that “liberal extremists” support post-birth abortions (a disproven claim). President Biden re-affirmed his support for Roe V. Wade with the backing of Constitutional scholars. With 63% of Americans saying abortion should be legal in all or most cases, Biden’s message stormed over Trump’s attacks.

The Takeaways

With both national conventions approaching in the weeks ahead and President Trump’s vice-presidential announcement imminent, the story is far from complete. For more updates on the future of our country, and the latest news that impacts America, tune into The Weekender each week.

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