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5 takeaways from the debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden

America got its first look at President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump in a head-to-head matchup in a closely divided election in a contest between two of the most unpopular presidents in history.

Topics covered in the roughly 90-minute debate hit on all the main issues for most voters: the economy, immigration, the future of American democracy and several other issues like an increase in drug overdoses and the cost of childcare. It was also deeply personal for both men, who frequently attacked each other’s character and competency to be president.

Voters won’t get another chance to see them together again until September when the next debate is scheduled.

Highlights from the first debate:


The state of the economy and inflation are the leading issue for most voters preparing to cast a ballot in November and is often the biggest factor for independents to decide who to vote for.

Both men painted a vastly different picture of each other’s stewardship of the economy, with Biden saying he inherited an economy “on its back” and accusing Trump of rewarding the wealthy with his signature tax cuts. Trump charged Biden with causing inflation that at one point reached 9% before cooling off considerably over the last year and said he had oversaw the creation of the “greatest economy in the world.”

“We had the greatest economy in the history of our country. And we have never done so well. Every everybody was amazed by it. Other countries were copying us,” Trump said. “The only jobs he created are for illegal immigrants and bounceback jobs that bounced back from the COVID. He has not done a good job. He’s done a poor job and inflation is killing our country. It is absolutely killing us.”

That was a vastly different interpretation than the one Biden gave, which was that he led America back from an economy left in shambles due to Trump’s mismanagement of the pandemic.

“We had an economy that was in freefall — the pandemic was so badly handled. Many people were dying. All he said was ‘it’s not that serious, just inject a little bleach into your arm, you’ll be alright,” Biden said. “The economy collapsed, there were no jobs. Unemployment rate rose to 15%. It was terrible, and so what we had to do was try to put things back together again.”


Trump focused on Biden’s handling of immigration and the southern border throughout the debate, pivoting from questions about many different unrelated issues to the perceived failings of the Biden administration at the U.S.-Mexico border. He also tried to tie illegal border crossings to crime, a line of attack that he and other Republicans frequently make to argue against Biden’s immigration policies.

“He decided to open up our border, open up our country to people that are from prisons, people that are from mental institutions, insane asylum, terrorists,” Trump said without offering evidence.

Biden appeared to become frustrated with Trump’s frequent pivots and misleading statements about immigration, calling him a liar and blaming him for tanking a bipartisan Senate deal meant to address some of the issues at the border.

“Everything he says is a lie. Every single one,” Biden said.


The 81-year-old Biden and 78-year-old Trump were both asked by moderators what they would say to voters who are concerned about their advanced age and ability to lead the country heading into November. Whoever wins the election will set the mark for the oldest president in American history.

Age is of particular concern for Biden’s campaign, as voters have regularly told pollsters they have concerns about his ability to lead the country through another four years. Trump has had his own troubles mixing up names and meandering during speeches but does not face the same skepticism from the public.

Biden deflected the question, referencing that he was one of the youngest people to be elected to the Senate before pivoting to talking about his achievements during his first term in office. Trump noted that he had passed a cognitive test and challenged Biden to take one.

The conversation then devolved into a debate over who is the better golfer and discussing their physical attributes.

Biden’s campaign had sought to put some of those concerns to rest with a strong debate performance with several months to go before Election Day, but Biden’s performance has done the opposite for even some of his strongest supporters.


Biden was sharply critical of Trump at numerous points throughout the debate, listing off his legal troubles and describing what he sees as flaws in his character that make him unfit to be the next president.

“How many billions of dollars do you owe on civil penalties for for molesting a woman in public, for doing a whole range of things — of having sex with a porn star on the night, while your wife is pregnant — What are you talking about?” he said after noting that Trump is now a convicted felon.

Trump baselessly accused Biden of being a criminal and also claimed the president is ordering the several prosecutions of him because he is a political opponent. Trump has frequently leaned on claims of a “weaponized” justice system being targeted against him for Biden’s benefit since making history as the first former president to be indicted on criminal charges.

“You have the morals of an alley cat,” Biden said.

“I didn’t have sex with a porn star,” Trump responded.


While the age concerns were directly addressed by the moderators, it was also being closely watched by millions of Americans who are hesitant to support Biden over the issue. His voice was scratchy during the debate and there were several moments where he appeared to lose his train of thought or struggle to clearly lay out a case on several of the issues.

He particularly struggled in the beginning of the debate when arguing about the economy and inflation with Trump.

Biden drifted from an answer on tax policy to health policy, at one point using the word “COVID,” and then saying, “excuse me, with, dealing with,” before trailing off again.

“Look, we finally beat Medicare,” Biden said while giving an answer on tax and health policies.

“That’s right, he did beat Medicaid, he beat it to death. And he’s destroying Medicare,” Trump said.

Trump has frequently played up attacks on Biden’s mental fitness and age and continued to do so on stage.

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