Abortion, conflict and convictions: How Biden and Trump’s presidential debate went down

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun29,2024
The first debate for the 2024 US presidential campaign is over, and the pictures Democratic incumbent Joe Biden and his Republican opponent Donald Trump sought to paint of their country could not be more at odds.
The United States Trump conjured is a nation with a collapsed economy and an international reputation in tatters.
“We’re not respected, they don’t like us … they think we’re very stupid people,” the former president said of the US’ reputation abroad.

“We’ve become like a third-world nation.”

Biden directly rebuked his predecessor — saying his stint in office had left a legacy of “chaos” — and instead affirmed a more traditional and patriotic vision of the US.
“We’re the most admired country in the world. We’re the United States of America. There’s nothing beyond our capacity,” he said, praising the country’s military and leadership on the world stage.

“No-one thinks we’re weak. No-one wants to screw around with us, nobody.”

A composite photo of Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

Donald Trump and Joe Biden are the presumptive nominees for the Republican and Democratic parties, respectively. Source: Getty

The two conflicting visions of the US resurfaced throughout the debate — the first between a former and sitting president — as it ranged across issues including abortion, the economy and the Ukraine and Gaza conflicts.

The two also descended into personal attacks, with mention made of Biden’s age and Trump’s height during the debate, which comes four months before US voters head to the polls on 5 November.

Here are the main takeaways.

Abortion rights

The debate’s first truly fiery exchange was over abortion rights, with Trump airing false claims that pro-choice activists want to allow termination at nine months — or even for babies to be killed after they are born.
Infanticide is not legal in any US state.
Biden responded by saying that is “simply not true” and criticised Trump’s role in dismantling protections for legal pregnancy terminations.

In 2022, the Supreme Court — which is ruled by a conservative majority, including three judges Trump appointed — overturned the historic Roe v Wade decision that constitutionally protected abortion.

A group of protesters holding up signs for reproductive rights.

Constitutional protection for abortion in the US was repealed with the overturning of Roe v Wade in 2022. Source: AAP / Natascha Tahabsem / Cover Images

“It’s been a terrible thing, what you’ve done,” Biden said.

During the debate, Trump said he would not block access to abortion medication if elected, and reiterated his belief that abortion should be under the states’ control.


Trump introduced migration into the debate early on and continued to return to it when answering questions that were not directly related to migration.
He frequently conflated migration and crime.
Trump said Biden had failed to secure the southern US border, allowing in scores of criminals.
Biden replied: “Once again, he’s exaggerating, he’s lying.”
immigrants do not commit crimes at a higher rate than those born in the US.

Election results

Trump skirted around direct questions about whether he would accept the election results if he lost.
After several attempts from moderators, he eventually said “absolutely”, but on the condition that it was “a fair and legal and good election”.

How Trump and his supporters assess that, come 5 November, remains to be seen.

Trump has never publicly accepted the result of the previous election, instead alleging — without proof — that millions of people voted illegally. His own special commission into the issue has not found evidence of voter fraud.

January 6 insurrection

The Republican candidate downplayed the number of people involved in the January 6 insurrection in Washington, saying it was a “relatively small number”.
In fact, more than 1,400 people have been charged over the 2021 riot, when seeking to prevent Congress from formalising Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential contest.
A large number of Trump supporters storm the Capitol building in Washington.

Mobs of Trump supporters stormed the US seat of government on 6 January 2021, trying to prevent Joe Biden from becoming president. Source: Anadolu / Getty Images

Trump also deflected questions about his role in the incident, eventually saying: “I had virtually nothing to do. They asked me to go make a speech.”

A US House committee report found Trump was “the central cause” of the insurrection. On 19 December 2020, he encouraged followers to attend a “big protest” on that date saying: “Be there, will be wild!”

Trump currently faces four federal criminal charges in connection with his efforts to overturn the 2020 election — although the Supreme Court is still deciding whether he has presidential immunity.

Convictions and legal battles

Donald Trump seemingly threatened Biden with jail if he is elected in the upcoming US election in November.
“Joe could be a convicted felon as soon as he gets out of office,” Trump said when asked by moderators if he would prosecute his political opponents if he wins office.

“He’s done horrible things.”

Biden has not been accused of any crime, and it’s unclear what Trump was referring to.
Biden returned that “the only person on this stage [that] is a convicted felon, is the man I’m looking at right now”.
Trump was convicted in New York earlier this month on 34 counts of falsifying documents, related to hush money payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels.

Ukraine and NATO

The United State’s role in the Russia-Ukraine conflict was also in the spotlight.

Biden said he’s “never heard so much foolishness” after Trump claimed that, if elected, he would resolve the war in Ukraine before taking office on 20 January.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy shakes hands with US President Joe Biden.

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy and US President Joe Biden held talks on the sidelines of the G7 Summit in Italy in June. Source: Anadolu / Anadolu/Anadolu via Getty Images

Trump also called Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy “the greatest salesman ever”, referencing the aid the US had provided to the country since Russia invaded in February 2022.

Biden alleged that Trump planned for the US to leave NATO — the strategic alliance between the US and European countries — and said his approach could spark a broader war in Europe.

Gaza and Israel

The ongoing conflict in Gaza, where five US citizens are still understood to be held as hostages, also came under scrutiny.

Biden defended his role in trying to negotiate a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, which has so far proved unsuccessful.

Trump did not answer whether he would support the creation of a Palestinian state after the conflict. Instead, he accused Biden of refusing to help Israel “finish the job” — apparently referring to its war on Hamas.

“He doesn’t want to do it. He’s become like a Palestinian,” Trump said of Biden.

Personal attacks

Unsurprisingly, the debate was also peppered with insults and personal attacks.
Biden accused Trump of being a “whiner” over his last election loss. Trump said Biden, like all politicians, is a “complainer”.

Months of Republican attacks on the 81-year-old Biden’s age put his raspy voice in the spotlight, but his team said he was recovering from a cold.

Trump, who is 78, said a doctor had told him “nobody has ever aged so well” and challenged the president to a cognitive contest. Biden said Trump was exaggerating his height.

Eventually, it was Trump who said: “Let’s not act like children.”

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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