Debate Night: What A Disaster | Crooked Media
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June 28, 2024
What A Day
Debate Night: What A Disaster

In This Episode

  • Well… that happened. In the first presidential debate of the 2024 election cycle, President Biden failed to ease concerns about his age, igniting panic among Democrats. Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump blustered his way through lie after lie with little pushback and once again refused to say whether he would accept the election results. Grace Panetta, politics reporter for The 19th, and Gerren Keith Gaynor, White House correspondent and managing editor of politics at The Grio, join Tre’vell Anderson to break down the highlights — and the many, many lowlights — of last night’s debate.


Show Notes:



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Tre’vell Anderson: It’s Friday, June 28th. I’m Tre’vell Anderson. And this is What a Day, the show that is wondering what exactly is a Black job? On today’s show we’ve got a special episode for y’all. We’re recapping the highlights and the lowlights from last night’s debate, the first ever between a sitting president and a former president. Also, the earliest debate we’ve ever seen in a presidential election cycle. For 90 minutes on CNN, President Joe Biden and former president and convicted felon Donald Trump went back and forth on the major issues that could move the needle this election cycle, like reproductive health care, like the economy, the war in Gaza, immigration. I have two guests joining me to break it all down. Grace Panetta covers politics for the 19th and Gerren Keith Gaynor is the white House correspondent and managing editor of politics at The Grio. Grace, Gerren, thanks for being here. Welcome to What a Day. 


Gerren Keith Gaynor: Glad to be here. 


Grace Panetta: Thank you for having us. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. So before we jump into it, I have to do a wellness check. How are y’all doing after that 90 minute uh experience that we all just had? I’ll start with you, Grace. 


Grace Panetta: Oh, I am doing great. I’m in my hotel room in Raleigh, North Carolina. Yeah, I drove back after watching the debate at the North Carolina Democratic Party headquarters. Definitely an interesting way to experience it. 


Tre’vell Anderson: How was that? How was the mood in the room there? 


Grace Panetta: It was really energetic before the debate. People were very excited. And then the mood started to turn as the debate went on. But shortly after it was over, a lot of the people who were there got on a bunch of big chartered busses to go to the airport, where I believe Biden is flying in for his rally on Friday afternoon. But people, you know, we’re still in it, still with the Biden cause, but it was definitely kind of a more dampened mood then before the debate started. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Gerren, what about for you? How did you experience the debate? 


Gerren Keith Gaynor: I think we all had to make a collective whoosah after that debate. It was a long debate and as you mentioned, it was a very historic debate, not only because it was the first time we saw a sitting president and a former president debate, but also because we had the two oldest candidates stand up for 90 minutes. And I think that age was palpable in this debate. And it was I don’t really have the right words to describe the debate, but it certainly was important for American voters to see the candidates on record, live in action. I’m curious to see what the polling shows after last night’s debate. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. We’re going to get to that age thing in just a moment. Don’t you worry. I do want to start, though, by noting that Donald Trump said a whole lot of lies during the debate. And our wonderful friends over at CNN said ahead of it that they weren’t going to be fact checking in real time for various different reasons. I want to ask, you know, I’ll start with you Gerren, how do you think that worked out for them, for us as the viewing public? And how much of that perhaps helped Trump in what we saw? 


Gerren Keith Gaynor: Ugh. Donald Trump told a lot of lies. To be clear, I think if Tapper and Bash took so much time fact checking him, we wouldn’t have been able to really get through the entire debate, because that’s how many times we’ve heard a lie from Trump during the debate. There was just so many. I mean, I think about the January 6th and putting the blame on Nancy Pelosi, for example, when we know that she had no authority to approve National Guard to come to DC, he had the power. And so there were times where I wanted to see the moderators jump in there, because the president didn’t fact check Trump enough, I don’t think. And so I think it would have been helpful. But ultimately they had 90 minutes and they would have gone on for another 90 minutes if they took that time trying to go back and forth, trying to fact check Trump in real time. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, Grace, I feel like my time line was all reacting to the fact that Trump was getting away with all of these lies. What was your take on the moderation, the lack of fact checking? 


Grace Panetta: Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, they really did the best job they could moderating the debate under the circumstances. I don’t think that it would have been reasonable or feasible for them to also do live fact checking and moderating. Then at the same time, Trump is a person who tells a lot of lies and misleading statements, no matter the format and the context. And that’s just something about him that our political ecosystem has kind of taken in and absorbed over the years, for better or for worse. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Right. You’re very right that Trump really was just being Trump last night. But the general consensus seems to be that Biden, on the other hand, had a very rough night. They’re serious talks within Democratic circles, apparently, about whether Biden should step aside and let Democrats nominate someone else at the convention. Grace, was it that bad? 


Grace Panetta: Ugh. It’s hard to say based on one debate. And I mean, look, if you look at kind of past debates, I remember in 2012, the first presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney absolutely dominated, was the perception. People thought, wow, like Obama had a really bad debate performance and it ultimately wasn’t determinative of the election results. With that said, I think Biden’s performance at the debate speaks to larger concerns about his age, about his ability to serve in office, and it that does not serve him well at this point in the cycle, and especially with the debate this early, he needed to be making that case for voters that he has the stamina. He has the energy to do the job like he did at the State of the Union. And I think he did not do that. Now, whether or not it’s feasible to replace him at this point, there have been very many versions of those talks happening, really, since Biden’s took office um for the first time over three years ago now, and maybe we’ll see more of that. It’s unclear whether it’ll get really to the highest levels of the party as a result of this one debate. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Gerren, how can Biden and the Democrats contain the potential fallout from this debate performance? Have you heard anything yet from the campaign in any regard? 


Gerren Keith Gaynor: I have spoken to Democratic strategists who are already working on the spin. The Democratic strategist I spoke to admitted that this wasn’t the president’s best performance, but they see this debate as a showing about the president’s record, about what the president has been able to do. There is certainly worry. I sense that they don’t want to throw in the towel. I have conversations with one Democratic candidate who suggested that maybe they should rethink nominating Biden at the DNC convention, but most of the strategists I’ve spoke to have said that we’re still early into the election, that this is the first debate similar to what Grace mentioned, is that, you know, we’ve seen candidates lose the first debate and still come out okay in the end. And so it’s really about making sure that they hold Donald Trump to his record and they hold him to what they call this MAGA extremist policy. And just recently, they launched the Project 2025 landing page for the campaign. And I think that we’re going to see a lot of talk about Project 25 and the plans that Donald Trump has for a potential second administration, and that may scare voters. And so I don’t think that this debate will sway voters who already made up their mind. And I think the good thing is that millions of Americans may have watched this debate, but most American voters did not. And so it gives the campaign some wiggle room to kind of restrategize and figure out what do we do. Now, one strategist did tell me that they think it’s important that surrogates for the president step to the front and kind of fill up some of the gap that may have been put out there based on the performance of the president, but they are still showing a sign of confidence. We all have to take it on the chin every now and then. Right? I think we’ve all faltered, and I think that Democrats are certainly not going to allow this one debate to forecast the rest of the election, but it certainly wasn’t a good performance. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. And speaking of those surrogates, we did see California Governor Gavin Newsom and Vice President Kamala Harris making the rounds on CNN and MSNBC after the debate. 


[clip of Vice President Kamala Harris] A president who incites a– 


[clip of unnamed CNN host] But that is what is scary for people watching this.


[clip of Vice President Kamala Harris] -insurrection against the Capitol. No, but I got the point that you’re making about a 1.5 hour debate tonight. I’m talking about three and a half years of performance. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Doesn’t that in and of itself scream that we have a problem here? 


Gerren Keith Gaynor: You know, potentially. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Or is that just politics as normal? 


Gerren Keith Gaynor: It’s a very real reality that the president could lose the election. What the president has on his side is a strong record. Now, I think Donald Trump did a really good job of really putting the president on defense about inflation. I think that the president didn’t really take advantage of the time that he had to really go after Trump in terms of how he handled the Covid 19 pandemic, how a million Americans lost their lives because of his leadership or lack of leadership. I think the president has to lick those wounds, if he will. Um. See where he could have been stronger in making the case against Donald Trump. But are we at a five alarm right now in the election? It’s hard to say. I think really a month from now, most viewers probably won’t even remember this debate. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Mm hmm. Absolutely. I want to go a little deeper, look at some of the major issues and topics that came up. Grace, we’ve already mentioned that Trump was basically being Trump. He tried to tie almost every single answer he gave to immigration. Whether or not that was the question that was posed to him. But in an election right where immigration and the economy are these two major, top issues? Was that savvy on his part, or do you think voters will will see through it? 


Grace Panetta: Yeah. Savvy in the sense that these are the issues that he would like to talk about. However, at other points during the debate, he kind of like went off the rails, like he had an opportunity to give an answer about child care, which is a topic that myself and other colleagues at the 19th were very excited to hear the moderators ask about, and he kind of went off the rails. 


[clip of Donald Trump] Did you fire anybody? Did you fire anybody that’s on the border? That’s allowed us to have the worst border in the history of the world. Did anybody–


Grace Panetta: There was so much of that debate spent talking about that Atlantic story, about Trump’s reported comments about troops who died in the line of combat. So much back and forth on stuff that was not relevant, even to the issues that Trump himself wanted to highlight. And I think Trump is someone, TV is a format he knows very well. It’s one he’s very comfortable with. I do think the format of this debate played to his strengths, despite the fact that his mic was cut off. But at the same time, I feel like there wasn’t a lot of substantive debate on the issues. It was both candidates reiterating their positions, going back and forth, getting sidetracked. My colleague Chabeli Carrazana, who is our economy reporter, published a story with the headline, Swing and a miss: the candidates spent more time talking about golf than child care policy. Which is a real thing that happened in this debate. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Mm hmm. 


Grace Panetta: So, yes, from the standpoint that those are his stronger issues. Yes. It was prudent for Trump to talk about economy and immigration, but not really in a way that better solidified his position among the voters or gave them a coherent idea of what he would do. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, there was also part of the immigration discussion, if we want to call it that, that also Gerren like pit Black people against immigrants. That was the whole bit around Black jobs. I want to hear from you. How did it feel? What does it say to you that this is the particular way, right, that this point that we keep hearing in this election about Black voters and how pivotal we are to this process, that this is the way we get brought up in this discussion? 


Gerren Keith Gaynor: Yeah, I think it very similar to Trump’s comments about his mug shot and his conviction and how Black people will relate to him somehow because of that, really implying that Black people are criminals, right? And so, in the same vein, he had an opportunity to present policy ideas about how he would improve the lives of Black voters, these Black voters that he claims that he is going to move the needle for. And on one end, we saw the president go through a pretty decent laundry list of accomplishments that he has made as relates to Black Americans. And then on the other side, you have Trump bringing up immigration. And mind you. He did that throughout the entire debate. Almost every answer. He found a way to bring it back to immigration. I would argue that most Black Americans have a sophisticated understanding about immigration and the importance of immigrants. There are many Black immigrants in the US, and so I think that Donald Trump yet again showed that he doesn’t really understand Black America. He did mention opportunity zones with his work with Senator Tim Scott. I do wish that there was a fact check there, because the data shows that that was not necessarily anything that made any type of real positive impact for Black communities. He mentioned Black unemployment, but as the president mentioned, Black unemployment was lowest under his administration, and so there was not really any substance to the former president’s comments. It was a missed opportunity to really show that he actually does care about Black America. I do wish that President Biden kind of went a little bit harder on his record, because I think that there’s a lot to be said there. I think that targeting equity dollars as going to Black communities to clean up lead pipes, to close the racial wealth gap. He had talked about it on the top line type of way, but he could have been a little bit more granular because we we rarely get to see a question about Black America during a presidential debate. And I was happy to see the question there. And maybe that was because of the controversy over Black media reportedly not getting credentialed for the debate. But I do think that the president did his best to kind of go down what is a pretty long, impressive list. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. Grace, Trump also mentioned on this topic of immigration, he pointed to some recent high profile killings of young white women, allegedly by immigrants. This was something you told us before the debate that you’d be watching for, because they’ve been getting a lot of attention in conservative media in particular. I wonder what you heard when you heard him bring that up, right. Why are these killings significant, at least to Trump and conservatives in regards to immigration? 


Grace Panetta: Yeah, I think it’s similar, you know, to the same thing about pitting Black Americans against immigrants in terms of employment and jobs. It’s the same notion of the innocent white woman versus like, the scary immigrant. And we know from the data that immigrants are not more likely than natural born US Americans to commit violent crimes. Yet, of course, the Trump campaign is seizing on some of these tragic cases to kind of make this broader anti-immigration argument. So that really wasn’t that surprising. What really stood out is on Biden’s answer on abortion, arguably one of his strongest issues. I was very surprised to hear him talk about immigration in that answer. That was really surprising to me. Given that immigration is an issue that is not as strong for Biden, but I think it reflects the importance of the issue in this election. However, it meant that he didn’t give as strong of an answer on abortion that he could have. So definitely within this 90 minute format, a lot of trade offs. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. And we’re going to get to them talking about abortion in a moment. But we’re going to take a quick break here. If you like our show. Make sure to subscribe. Share it with your friends. We’ll be back after some ads. [music break]




Tre’vell Anderson: We are back with Grace Panetta, who covers politics for the 19th and Gerren Keith Gaynor, White House correspondent and managing editor of politics at The Grio. Recapping last night’s debate. Right before the break. Grace, we were talking about how the candidates responded to, talked about this major issue, right, of abortion, reproductive justice. It’s been a centerpiece of Biden’s reelection campaign, one that has propelled Democrats to electoral successes in the last two years. Did his messaging land during the debate for you? 


Grace Panetta: Yeah, I mean, for the Democrats and for President Biden, abortion has been an issue that has really been a leading one for them, especially since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade two years ago. And if you remember back to the first times Trump and Biden debated almost four years ago now, abortion wasn’t really a big issue. It came up maybe once in one of the debates in the context of Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court, but now it has really taken center stage in politics and in the context of this presidential election leading up to the debate, the Biden team are sending out a lot of surrogates around the country talking about this issue. From Trump we kind of got the standard fare of I want to send it back to the States. He made a lot of false and misleading claims, saying that most legal scholars wanted to see Roe v Wade overturned. A lot of really egregiously false claims and just straight up lies about abortions after birth and up to the point of birth, and that being what Democrats support. Um. And I think for Biden, given that this is one of his stronger issues, it’s one where he’s had quite an evolution throughout his career. It really was a big opportunity for him to really go in and highlight that and continue this message his team has been making, which is these abortion bans are a result of Trump’s administration and him appointing this conservative majority on the Supreme Court. One of the promises he kept from his 2016 campaign. And instead, Biden started by saying, yes, these abortion bans are terrible and then kind of segueing into immigration in a way that didn’t really make sense and didn’t really land for me. And then later, he had another kind of clunky answer. He was like, well, I support Roe, and in Roe there were three trimesters, and the first is just between a woman and her doctor. And then like the second, the state can get involved. It just definitely not sound bite material for sure. And also not really in the kind of language of electoral politics that mobilizes people, that fires people up, especially on an issue that’s been so mobilizing to his base. So I think to the extent that it matters at all, it was a big missed opportunity. And we’ll see if he kind, of course, corrects a bit in his remarks here in North Carolina later today. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Gerren, any thoughts to add on how either candidate responded to the questions around abortion? 


Gerren Keith Gaynor: It really was a layup for the president to really hammer Trump on abortion, because we know the polling shows that most Americans support abortion, support Roe. And I think the president was right on the message. I think how he delivered it was perhaps maybe not as strong. I think that he definitely had an opportunity to counter Trump when he mentioned late term abortions, and he didn’t mention the fact that these are very, extremely rare instances, and he just kind of let Trump go with that narrative. And I think that that was unfortunate. I cover the vice president pretty often, and I think it really shows that the vice president’s clearly the better communicator on this issue. I think that she does that brilliantly. She is a woman, and she has been talking to women about this issue, but so has the president. I think the president has been traveling around the country talking to women about how they’ve been impacted by abortion. I think that that was an opportunity to really give a face to this issue that many women and young women are going through right now and talking to the fear and anxiety that they have. He sort of touched on it, but again, I don’t think it was as strong as it could have been. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. I want to jump to another topic, which was foreign policy, particularly the war in Gaza. The war in Ukraine also came up. There was a weird comment with Trump calling Biden a Palestinian. That was wild. 


[clip of Donald Trump] He’s become like a Palestinian, but they don’t like him because he’s a very bad Palestinian. He’s a weak one. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Not something that I expected. Gerren, what was your response to how they, you know, addressed foreign policy in many ways? 


Gerren Keith Gaynor: Yeah. The calling Biden a bad Palestinian was not what I had on my bingo card. I’m still not sure what he really meant by that. Thinking about Black and young voters who feel really strongly about the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. You know, I don’t think that either candidate really said anything that put them at ease. I do think that based on their response, it became clear that the sitting president is probably the best to lead on this issue. But it fell flat. It really fell flat. The president didn’t mention his three step plan to get to a permanent cease fire. He hit the talking point, but I don’t think that it was enough to really move the needle in terms of just the national and really global outrage that is happening. I don’t think there was a lot of room talked about the mass amount of Palestinian lives that have been lost due to this war. But I think that Trump showed that he is probably not the best person to lead on this issue. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Grace, Trump said that he gonna solve all the problems with a blink of an eye, basically. Okay. Which, you know, I guess passes as foreign policy these days. 


Grace Panetta: I don’t even know what to [laugh] to say about that. Foreign policy is something that Biden has decades of experience with. He was a former chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee when he served in the Senate. But Trump, you know, coming into office with someone with no foreign policy experience had some notable things happen in his tenure, which he mentioned the killing of General Soleimani in Iran. Some of what happened also with our relationship with Israel and with Saudi Arabia didn’t really come away with anything new from that back and forth on foreign policy from either of the candidates, I think that actually was some of Biden’s stronger moments. I think him talking about the US’s role in preserving kind of the global order of democracy, the importance of NATO. These are things he really, really cares about and has for decades. And I think those were kind of his stronger rhetorical moments for whatever that ends up being worth. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Last thing I want to ask you both about is the conversation um in the debate around January 6th around whether or not Trump would accept the results of the election if he lost. The moderators did press him right on that question in particular. And he once again hedged, saying that he would accept them only if they were fair, which we know is code for, only if he wins. And Biden did have an effective kind of response here. 


[clip of President Joe Biden] You’re a whiner. When you lost the first time you said, you continued, you appealed and appealed to courts all across the country. Not one single court in America said any of your claims had any merit, state or local. None. But you continued to provoke this lie about somehow there’s all this misrepresentation, all this stealing. There is no evidence of that at all. And I tell you what, I doubt whether you will accept it because you’re such a whiner. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Did that come too late? Because it was at the end of the debate. I’ll start with you, Grace. 


Grace Panetta: I would agree that I think Biden did pick up more steam towards the end. He also had that off the cuff moment of calling Trump an alley cat in relation to his recent criminal conviction on falsifying business records and connection to hush money payments to Stormy Daniels. And then Trump said on an American debate stage, I did not have sex with a porn star, which I don’t even know if I’m allowed to say that on this podcast, but Trump said it. So. 


Tre’vell Anderson: You are. 


Grace Panetta: Those are some of the more effective Biden moments when he’s really able to get at Trump in those ways and kind of zing at him a little bit. And that was true in 2020, I think, with the kind of famous like, will you shut the hell up, man. I agree he did have some little like effective zingers at Trump. And I will also say, I was thinking about this before the debate, too. I’m really glad the moderators found a way to ask about January 6th and ask about democracy and accepting the election results, because it is wild that that is even a question that is coming up in a presidential debate. So I’m very glad that the moderators asked about that. And yes, I do think Biden had that kind of effective response back and forth. And then, as we were discussing earlier from Trump, it was just a lot of lies and false claims about Pelosi. It was all Pelosi’s fault and him, you know, taking no responsibility per usual. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. Gerren? 


Gerren Keith Gaynor: Yeah. I would have liked to see the president paint a better picture about really what January 6th meant for the fragility of American democracy. I think he could have prosecuted the case a little bit better, especially given the fact that Trump yet again refused to say that he would accept the result. So essentially, he is setting us up for a potential second January 6th. And what does that mean for our democracy? It’s dangerous it’s really dangerous. I think that he could have taken more advantage of that because he tried to overthrow the federal government. He said, you know, I said peacefully, but he had four hours to do something to stop what was happening. He had four hours to tell them to stop. He had four hours to send the National Guard. As Capitol Police were fighting for their lives. Some of them lost their lives and I would have liked to see President Biden sort of drill down on that a little bit more, because for months he’s been traveling around the country talking about democracy and how Donald Trump is a is a threat to democracy. I think that those who understand it know that already. But for voters that I have talked to, I know that there are some people where it just goes over their head. Um. And so it’ll be interesting to see how the campaign uses Donald Trump’s comments during the debate against him to continue to prosecute that case against him. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yes, we will see what they do from here. We’re going to leave the conversation there. Grace Panetta, who covers politics at the 19th and Gerren Keith Gaynor, White House correspondent and managing editor of politics at The Grio. Thanks so much for joining us. 


Gerren Keith Gaynor: Thank you. 


Grace Panetta: Thank you for having us. [music break]




Tre’vell Anderson: That is all for today. If you liked the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Make sure you vote, okay? And tell your friends to listen. And if you are into reading and not just every bold face did lie Trump told like me, What a Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Tre’vell Anderson and you have the morals of an alley cat. [music break] What a Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our associate producers are Raven Yamamoto and Natalie Bettendorf. We had production help today from Michell Eloy, Greg Walters, and Julia Claire. Our showrunner is Erica Morrison, and our executive producer is Adriene Hill. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.