Biden Struggles as He Spars With Trump on Economy: Debate Takeaways

(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden floundered during the presidential debate against former President Donald Trump, failing a key test to demonstrate to voters he’s up for a second term.

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The strict rules kept the debate controlled, policy-focused and devoid of the outbursts and testy exchanges that characterized the Biden-Trump debates in 2020.

Here are the key takeaways from Thursday’s CNN Debate in Atlanta:

Biden Lost

Biden’s hoarse voice, halting responses and confusion over key data points exacerbated concerns about his age and acuity. Even in his prepared closing remarks, Biden stumbled over his words and at times sounded incoherent. By comparison, Trump appeared confident and sounded robust. Biden’s allies sought to downplay his performance saying the president had a cold.

Trump Kept Calm

Trump kept a mostly calm demeanor during the debate. He avoided the kind of outbursts and belligerence that hurt him in his 2020 debate with Biden and didn’t give Democrats ammunition to paint him as extreme.

It was Trump who said “let’s not act like children.” But the former president still peppered his answers with his characteristic exaggerations and superlatives.

Biden Defends Record

Biden defended his record on the economy and helping Black families with unemployment, combating housing discrimination and student loans. But he also said, “I don’t blame them for being disappointed” and acknowledged that inflation “is still hurting them badly.” Polls show Trump is pulling away Black support from Biden, a key group that helped him win in 2020.

Price Blame Game

Both candidates predicted households would pay more if the other won the White House. Trump said Biden would raise taxes for families. Biden retorted that people would see their costs rise from Trump’s plans to hike tariffs on imports.

Biden has pledged to not raise taxes on those earning less than $400,000, but has called for a series of tax hikes on top earners. Trump wants to put a 10% tariff on all goods, with even higher duties on Chinese products. That would amount to $1,700 a year in additional costs, according to non-partisan Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Abortion Politics

Trump tacked to the middle on abortion, while still taking credit for nixing Roe v. Wade. Trump said he would not ban mifepristone, the abortion drug, and said different states would have different rules. He also said he supported exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. Trump accused Democrats of supporting late-term abortions and infanticide and would “rip the baby from the womb.” Biden said Trump’s attacks were not true. “We are not for late-term abortion period. Period. Period,” he said.

China Squabble

Trump accused China of “killing” the US with opioids and alleged that Biden was bringing the US closer to a global conflict. “China is going to own us if you keep allowing them to do what they’re doing to us as a country,” Trump told Biden, responding to a question about the drug crisis. The dollar inched higher in Asian trading as markets assessed Trump was ahead in the debate.

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