Biden, Trump set stakes for voters in first, chaotic presidential debate

Biden, Trump set stakes for voters in first, chaotic presidential debate

First showdown marked by personal attacks, meandering, stream-of-consciousness diatribes

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) - US President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump sought to set the stakes for America's voters Thursday night as they sparred during their first presidential debate that repeatedly broke down into personal attacks and meandering, stream-of-consciousness diatribes.

Biden repeatedly struggled to maintain his train of thought during an exceptionally uneven debate performance as Trump energetically spouted off a number of misleading statements and falsehoods while dodging concrete answers to moderators' questions. Both men, however, sought to convey to voters the vastly different approaches they would take to the presidency should they win a second term.

Speaking with a raspy voice throughout the night, Biden portrayed Trump as a boon for America's wealthy elite, saying he "rewarded the wealthy" during his presidency, including via "the largest tax cut in American history" that the president said greatly exacerbated the national deficit.

"He's the only president other than Herbert Hoover who’s lost more jobs than he had when he began," he said.

Biden falsely claimed that he is the only president who did not have "any troops dying anywhere in the world" during his term in office. Three US service members were killed in Jordan in January when a suicide drone launched by Iranian-backed militias struck their military base near the Syrian border. Another 13 troops died in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan during the chaotic US exit from the country that ended America's longest war.

Trump for his part sought to portray Biden's first four years as a "disaster," repeatedly telling viewers that "our country is being destroyed," harping in particular on the state of the US economy and Biden's immigration policies.

"We're living in hell. We have the Palestinians, and we have everybody else rioting all over the place," he said, apparently referring to ongoing nationwide pro-Palestinian protests that have erupted in the wake of Israel's war on Gaza and ongoing US material support for the sweeping offensive.

- Trump says Biden is a 'very bad Palestinian. He's a weak one'

In one of many odd, off-the-wall moments that defined Thursday night's showdown, Trump sought to castigate Biden as a "Palestinian," saying the president is preventing Israel from reaching its war aims in the war-ravaged Gaza Strip.

"As far as Israel and Hamas, Israel's the one that wants to go. He said the only one who wants to keep going is Hamas. Actually, Israel is the one, and you should let 'em go and let 'em finish the job," said Trump. "He doesn't want to do it. He's become like a Palestinian, but they don't like him because he's a very bad Palestinian. He's a weak one."

Asked if he would support an independent Palestinian state, Trump demurred, saying, "I'd have to see."

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