Biden was losing the debate in the moments when he wasn't even talking (2024)

As he and former President Donald Trump sparred for an hour and a half on Thursday night, it became clear that Biden's style points — or lack thereof — would come to define the night.

Despite a few jabs at Trump, Biden spent much of the debate slurring through sentences and, at times, sounding incoherent.

"We finally beat Medicare," Biden said at one point, just one example of several major gaffes.

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But the shortcomings of Biden's performance — which Business Insider's politics reporters called a "complete disaster" — went beyond his speaking segments.

BI spoke to a public-speaking coach and an executive coach, both of whom said Biden's conduct while listening to Trump speak also hurt his image.

'It wasn't the president's finest hour'

When it was Trump's turn to speak, Biden sometimes looked toward the ground as though drifting from the conversation. At various points, Biden held an intense yet vacant stare with his mouth ajar and brows furrowed.

"It wasn't the President's finest hour. He primarily played into his opponent's accusations of weakness, and people often view a leader's speaking performance as shorthand for their leadership style," Paul Falzon, a Singapore-based public speaking and presentation coach with 20 years of experience, told BI.

"I believe he spoke too quickly," Falzon added. "He couldn't enunciate and emphasize keywords effectively, something compounded by the raspy quality of his voice."

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Biden's occasional habit of averting eye contact and looking down indicates he was listening carefully and preparing rebuttals, Falzon said. Still, it made him seem "somewhat cowed," Falzon said.

"I don't think Biden's base can put a positive spin on his first debate performance," Falzon said.

Adriana Giotta, a clinical psychologist and executive coach, shared a similar critique of Biden's reactions during the debate.

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"Too many stunned, sarcastic, or disconnected facial expressions as a reaction to the speaker do not convey professionalism and equanimity, instead exuding weakness," Giotta told BI about Biden's demeanor.

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"I would instead recommend always maintaining a strong posture with the head raised and the gaze looking ahead to keep the facial expression as neutral as possible," she added.

The age of TikTok isn't being kind to Biden

Trump has often used Biden's age to argue that Biden is unfit for office. Biden is 81. Trump is 78.

To be sure, Biden's reactions during the debate can't be taken as absolute indicators that he wasn't paying attention to the conversation or is unfit for office.

But politicians' gaffes land badly in the age of TikTok and Instagram Reels. In Biden's case, social media is filled with clips of him appearing to hobble away during leadership meetings or having to be ushered off-stage by other politicians.

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The White House has disputed these clips, saying many were edited or cropped in bad faith to portray Biden as feeble or forgetful.

The damage, however, is not so easily reversed — especially when considering how young voters get their news.

Google recently found that Gen Zers, 41 million of whom are eligible to vote in the US this year, tend not to consume long articles or research, choosing instead to view headlines or watch videos before going straight to social media comments sections.

And Thursday's debate will likely serve up fodder for those who want to portray Biden as a senile man, even if some of his arguments were logical and factual.

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Trump, for his part, repeatedly lied about or mischaracterized Biden's policies during the debate, hurling several false statements on immigration and economic growth.

But demeanor-wise, he appeared active and alert. The public-speaking experts BI spoke to agreed that Trump seemed more confident and exuded more conviction.

Trump's body language demonstrated "more assurance, leadership abilities, and reliability to the audience," Giotta said.

Falzon echoed this idea.

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"His gestures were more expressive and less aggressive than his debates in 2020, and this gave him the aura of confidence," Falzon said about Trump.

"However, I don't think we should confuse his confidence with substance," Falzon added.

In many moments, the dichotomy between his composure and Biden's was painfully apparent.

And the Trump campaign knows it. Hours after the debate wrapped, it emailed supporters lauding a "split-screen for the ages."

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"A strong, focused, and powerful performance from President Donald J. Trump and an incoherent, humiliating, and embarrassing display of Crooked Joe Biden's weakness and decline," it said.

The Trump and Biden campaigns did not immediately respond to requests for comment from BI.

Biden was losing the debate in the moments when he wasn't even talking (2024)
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