Who Won the First Presidential Debate?

Who Won The First Presidential Debate?

In the recent opinion piece titled ‘God Help Us': 12 Writers Rate Biden's Performance at the First Presidential Debate,' several New York Times columnists and contributors weigh in on who emerged victorious during the heated exchange. The article reveals a range of perspectives, with many writers agreeing that President Biden's performance was hindered by moments of incoherence and signs of his age, while , despite his usual barrage of falsehoods, appeared unusually composed. This piece offers a mosaic of viewpoints, some asserting a clear win for Trump, while others lament the lack of a definitive victor, leaving readers to ponder the implications of such a polarizing and unpredictable debate. Have you ever watched a presidential debate and wondered, “Who really won?” It's a question that sparks heated discussions, stirs emotions, and sometimes leaves you more confused than before you tuned in. Let's dive into the whirlwind that was the first 2024 presidential debate between Joe Biden and .

Overview of the Debate

The first presidential debate of 2024 was held on Thursday night, and it was nothing short of a spectacle. Candidates Joe Biden and Donald Trump faced off in a high-stakes encounter that left many questioning who came out on top. To get a clearer picture, the New York Times Opinion section asked 12 of their columnists and contributors to rate the performance of both candidates.

The Rating System

The writers used a scale of 0 to 5 to rate the debate:

  • 0: The night didn't change anything.
  • 5: One man triumphed overwhelmingly.

From this rating system, you'll see a blend of perspectives that offer a nuanced view of the debate.

Josh Barro’s Viewpoint

Josh Barro's assessment was pretty straightforward. He believed that Joe Biden failed at his primary task: showing voters that he's still capable of holding the office. According to Barro, the first 20 minutes were disastrous for Biden. He described Biden as mumbling, occasionally incoherent, and generally appearing very old. On the other hand, Barro thought Trump seemed more “normal” than usual, which, in his eyes, was enough for a clear win for Trump.

Who Won The First Presidential Debate?

Jamelle Bouie’s Take

Jamelle Bouie offered a different angle. He felt that both candidates flopped in their respective ways. According to Bouie, Biden came across as raspy and stumbling, while Trump seemed deranged and incoherent, spouting a stream of lies throughout the debate. Bouie summarized the night succinctly: there was no winner.

David French’s Perspective

David French also sided with Trump, but his reasoning was a bit different. He felt that Trump won not because of Trump's performance, but because Biden failed so spectacularly. French noted that Trump's performance was “comprehensively dishonest” but not unhinged—something that might go unnoticed among lower-information voters. According to French, Biden's age showed in a way that couldn't be spun or explained away.

Who Won The First Presidential Debate?

Michelle Goldberg’s Evaluation

Michelle Goldberg's evaluation was perhaps the most dire. She stated bluntly, “Trump, God help us.” Goldberg noted that Trump spouted preposterous lies, but Biden was too incoherent to take advantage of it. She feared this would lead to a new wave of calls for Biden to drop out, and she was ready to join that chorus.

Jean Guerrero’s Insight

Jean Guerrero focused on the racial dynamics of the debate. According to her, Trump relied heavily on anti-immigrant rhetoric to position himself as a defender of Black and brown communities. His message that immigrants were taking jobs from Black and Hispanic people was, in her view, both deceptive and degenerate. Yet, she noted that Biden had no effective strategy against it, and no one fact-checked Trump on the spot. Guerrero believed this scapegoating would resonate with many struggling people, making Trump the “winner” of the night in terms of landing points.

Who Won The First Presidential Debate?

Additional Opinions

Beyond these highlighted opinions, several other writers contributed their thoughts. The consensus varied widely, capturing a broad spectrum of perspectives.

Summary of Ratings

Here's a table to summarize the perspectives shared by the writers:

Writer Rating Winner Key Points
Josh Barro 2 Trump Biden appeared old and incoherent, while Trump seemed more “normal.”
Jamelle Bouie 0 None Both were unimpressive; Biden was stumbling, Trump was incoherent.
David French 3 Trump Trump won by default due to Biden's poor performance.
Michelle Goldberg 1 Trump Biden couldn't capitalize on Trump's lies, increasing calls for Biden to drop out.
Jean Guerrero 4 Trump Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric was effective; Biden had no counter-strategy.

Key Takeaways

So, what can be gleaned from these various opinions? It's clear that Biden's perceived energy and performance were significant points of contention. Trump's ability to appear somewhat stable while unleashing a barrage of questionable statements also influenced many of the critiques.

Biden’s Performance

Biden's performance was widely panned by nearly all the writers. The adjectives used—mumbling, incoherent, ancient—paint a less-than-flattering picture. The general consensus was that Biden did not meet the expectations set for him, failing to reassure voters about his capability to lead.

Trump’s Strategy

Trump's strategy of bombarding the audience with unverified claims seemed to work in his favor, according to most writers. Even though some criticized him for being dishonest, the lack of immediate fact-checking allowed these statements to hang in the air unchallenged.

The Impact on Voters

For lower-information voters or those who don't follow politics closely, Trump's more “normal” appearance might have given him an edge. As alarming as it is to some, these voters might not sift through the lies and instead take his points at face value.

Who Won The First Presidential Debate?

The Broader Implications

It's not just about who won the debate; it's also about the broader implications for the . How do performances in these debates impact voter behavior, and what could these opinions signal for the future?

The Youth Vote

Younger voters might be particularly critical of Biden's performance, given the focus on his age and coherence. This could spell trouble for Biden if he fails to energize this crucial demographic.

Swing Voters

Swing voters watching the debate might have found Trump's stability—relative to his usual self—reassuring. However, Biden's shakiness might give them pause. Both candidates need to be acutely aware of how these voters perceive them.

Fact-Checking Importance

The absence of immediate fact-checking during the debate was a significant point raised by multiple writers. This lack might allow false narratives to persist, impacting voter perception. It's a reminder of how crucial real-time fact-checking has become in modern debates.


So, who really won the first presidential debate? The answer isn't clear-cut. Different perspectives offer varied conclusions, but a common thread runs through the critiques: neither candidate emerged as a star. Biden's apparent lack of energy and Trump's steady stream of unverified statements left many wishing for a better showing from both sides.

Ultimately, the “winner” might be less important than the debate's impact on voter perceptions and its implications for the upcoming . Regardless of who you believe won, there's no doubt this debate has set the stage for a highly contested and deeply scrutinized season.

Whatever your takeaway, one thing is certain: this debate has ignited discussions that will continue to echo through the remaining election cycle. So, stay informed, keep questioning, and most importantly, make your voice heard come election day.

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