The Biden-Trump debate


Did you miss the debate? Good for you.

It mostly tracked all the themes we foreshadowed yesterday in our weekly Election Intrigue (which is free to subscribe).

And for reasons we’ll get to below, reflecting on the international elements of this debate feels a little like reflecting on the ketchup quality at the Super Bowl. But let’s quickly get you up to speed with some of the quotes you need to know:

  • “I’m the only president this century that doesn’t have — this decade — any troops dying anywhere in the world like he did” – Biden

Biden was the first to bring up Afghanistan, arguing his administration’s 2021 withdrawal put an end to ongoing US deaths there. But Trump described that withdrawal – which cost the lives of 13 US service personnel – as “the most embarrassing day in the history of our country’s life“.

  • “When Putin saw that, he said, ‘You know what? I think we’re gonna go in’” – Trump

Trump was arguing that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan projected weakness, which encouraged or enabled Russia’s Putin to mount his full-scale invasion of Ukraine six months later. Trump also repeated his criticism of the costs of US support, said “Ukraine is not winning“, and reiterated his claim that he’ll end the Russo-Ukraine war before re-taking office.

As for Biden? He noted the US spending went to US defence companies, and that it was Trump who wrote “love letters” to Kim Jong Un and told Putin “do whatever you want“. Biden also described Putin as a “war criminal” who wants to rebuild Russia’s empire, and won’t stop at Ukraine.

  • We saved Israel” – Biden

Biden was referring to his US-led coalition’s defence against Iran‘s long-range attack on Israel in April, though again, both candidates support Israel and its pursuit of Hamas. Trump, however, accused Biden of being weaker, prompting Biden to say the only thing he’s denied Israel was 2,000 pound bombs, which he noted aren’t suitable for dense, populated areas.

  • “He’s gonna start World War III” – both

Interestingly, both candidates levelled this accusation at the other in one form or another. Trump took credit for NATO‘s increased defence spending, and (as above) argued that US weakness allowed the current conflicts to break out.

In response, Biden contrasted some of Trump’s scepticism on NATO with the current US-led coalition of 50 countries now backing Ukraine – Biden said they understand that “no major war in Europe has ever been contained just to Europe“.

  • “China has been ripping us off for years” – Trump

That was Trump, though the two candidates were mostly in furious agreement on taking a tougher line on China – they just differ on the details. Trump wants a blanket 60% tariff on all imports from China (and 10% on imports from anywhere else), while Biden’s approach involves targeting a (growing) list of China’s sectors.

Interestingly, Trump also said “we’re getting killed on trade deals” with the EU, which probably explains why the euro then immediately dropped.

  • The most comprehensive climate legislation in history– Biden

That was how Biden preferred to describe his Inflation Reduction Act, while Trump went with “the green new scam”. They also debated their respective decisions to leave (Trump) then re-join (Biden) the 2015 Paris climate agreement – Trump argued the pact was ripping the US off, while Biden noted we just had our hottest year on record, and the US was the only major power not signing up.

Otherwise, the only other unsurprising bit of the debate was when, after calling each other liars, whiners, losers, and the worst presidents in history (plus even trash-talking each other’s golf handicap), the debate ended without a handshake.

INTRIGUE’S TAKE

As the debate rolled on, the Mexican peso, the Canadian dollar, the euro, and China’s main stock market all dipped. What happened?

The polls say Trump won (or Biden lost), so markets around America’s top trading partners were reflecting a growing assumption that Trump (and his more protectionist style) will now more likely return to the White House.

Why? Trump’s campaign is chuffed and says he stayed on message. But while Biden has insisted the fact-checkers will scrutinise Trump’s performance, members of Biden’s own party say the president’s performance was a “disaster” because of the way he often rambled, stumbled, or lost his words. And that’s at a time when most US voters were already saying they had concerns about Biden’s age and fitness for office (more so than for Trump, who is three years his junior).

Of course, this has all been a topic for a while, but folks are now attaching their name to it: two influential New York Times columnists (Friedman and Kristof) just called for Biden to step down – Friedman and Biden are close. Various current and former party figures have started to weigh in, too.

But an incumbent has never dropped out this close to election day, and other party figures are defending Biden. Plus, it’s unclear who would replace him (forecasting platforms suggest Gavin Newsom, governor of California), or how that would work (half the US states have a ballot deadline in August).

But either way, that internal party debate might end up having just as much global impact as the one we just watched on CNN.

Also worth noting:

  • The Republican Party is due to formally nominate Trump at its convention in Milwaukee from July 15th. The Democratic Party is due to formally nominate Biden at its convention in Chicago from August 19th. Election day is November 5th.
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