Biden vs. Trump Debate Fallout Sparks European Concerns

June 2024
By Maximilian Powell

On Thursday, 27 June, US President Joe Biden and his Republican challenger, Donald Trump, took part in the first 2024 US Presidential debate, marked by personal jabs and discussions on a wide range of issues including abortion, immigration, Ukraine, and the economy.

The night proved challenging for President Biden, who trails Trump in many key swing states. Particularly concerning was the occasional stumbling in his delivery, attributed by some to a reported cold. While Biden’s supporters tried to mitigate concerns, doubts persist among Democrats, questioning whether his age might hinder his ability to serve another term. Rumours suggesting a potential replacement candidate for the November election have surfaced, but such a scenario remains unlikely. Vice President Kamala Harris, commenting after the debate, acknowledged Biden’s “slow start” but encouraged voters to assess both candidates based on their track records beyond just their performance that evening.

The televised debate departed significantly from traditional presidential face-offs, featuring strict rules such as muted microphones to prevent interruptions – a response to the chaotic 2020 debate. The candidates, known for their animosity, did not exchange greetings before or after the debate, underscoring their strained relationship. While presidential debates typically centre on domestic policy, this debate notably delved into foreign policy discussions. Topics such as Afghanistan, Gaza, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine featured, yet neither candidate proposed innovative solutions or breakthrough strategies for addressing ongoing conflicts in Europe and the Middle East.

The debate garnered attention not only in the US but also likely from European leaders and policymakers, following a late-night European Council meeting. The stakes in this US election appear notably high for Europe, particularly concerning defence, given former President Trump’s campaign trail remark that he would encourage Russia to ‘do whatever the hell they want’ to any NATO country that fails to meet financial obligations.

Several European diplomats and officials quoted in Brussels-based media expressed a mix of disappointment and critical evaluation of the candidates’ performances, highlighting broader implications for America’s role in global affairs. Critiques of Biden’s performance were prevalent, with several officials questioning his ability to project the strength expected from a leader of a nuclear-armed superpower. Trump, known for his provocative statements, managed to articulate his positions more clearly, albeit sometimes at the expense of factual accuracy. 

The debate likely left Europe apprehensive about the repercussions of the US election campaign on America’s global standing, especially as President Biden prepares for a pivotal leadership moment at NATO’s 75th anniversary summit. It did little to quell European observers’ concerns that the contentious nature of the debate could undermine confidence in US leadership and stability on the world stage, highlighting the high stakes for transatlantic relations.