Presidential debate divides political veterans: Some say Biden unfit, others point at Trump’s convictions

By Ritu Jha-

Indian American political veterans reacted to the first 2024 debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump much like the rest of the nation: There was wide agreement that Biden looked physically weak and old, having difficulty completing full sentences at times, overshadowing the fact that Trump repeatedly exaggerated or outright lied.

Trump seemed less chaotic than their first debate in 2016 but that was largely because of new debate rules created to rein him in. There was no audience and the candidates’ mics were turned off after their allotted time.

Many people who watched called for Biden to step down while others felt it was okay to vote for him again because he has an administration to help him run the nation. On Trump, people felt he had improved a lot and were not worried about him being convicted in the hush money case.

“We need four more years of Joe Biden’s presidency,” Indian American Congressman Shri Thanedar told indica. “We need to finish the job and continue to create jobs and grow America’s economy.”

Democrat Rajiv Bhateja, co-founder of They See Blue, told indica that Biden’s poor performance reminded him of the first debate in 2012 when Barack Obama seriously underperformed against Mitt Romney.

“There’s no question that Trump ‘s performance was better than Biden’s from a TV audience perspective,” Bhateja said. “There were definitely some cringe-worthy moments from Biden. Hopefully, Biden does better going forward. That said, this is a contest between a lifelong civil servant and a convicted felon with numerous legal problems. The bigger question is why this is even a contest.”

Trump supporter Shalabh “Shalli” Kumar, an Illinois-based industrialist, political donor, and founder of the Republican Hindu Coalition, was nearly giddy with joy.

“The panic in the Biden camp was palpable,” Kumar said. “The outcome of the debate was confirmed by John King, CNN’s chief national correspondent. He said after the debate ‘I have given the first half score 10:0 in favor of Trump, and second half 8:2.”

Kumar, laughing, added that King said that he has been reporting for 40 years and has never seen such a debate.

“I have never seen such a one-sided debate,” Kumar said. “Though I have seen the debate of Reagan versus Carter, there is no comparison. It did not look like a debate today, he could not complete his sentences. He sounded hoarse and I think Democrats should be feeling ashamed for fielding Biden.”

Van Jones, former advisor to Barack Obama said, “I am hurting, I have worked for the guy and he was almost crying.”

Kumar said Biden could have scored on abortion but he didn’t.

“This thing is going to go down in the history of the United States Presidential debate and the campaign as the worst debate ever. And on top of that CNN reported that it was Biden who wanted to have this debate so that he could re-establish himself. Who can have respect for a frail person who cannot complete his sentences? How can he be the commander in chief?”

Kumar said Trump looked “okay” and he had a “phenomenal” answer on the January 6 siege on the Capitol and a documentary film made by Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s daughter that day.

“Biden had no come back on Pelosi. He did not have a counter-answer,” Kumar said. “They are going to have a tough time breaking the tradition if they have to replace Biden. In U.S. politics, traditionally the sitting president runs for the president. I wish his wife Jill Biden should have told him and have cared for Biden, take your glory and retire, and let the new generation come in.”

Dr. Sampat Shivangi, a Republican, said President Biden looked old and Trump seemed very strong and tough in the debate.

“All the court rulings, attending, seem to have changed him. He has learned in four years, he has studied that to be what he is today,” said Shivangi, founder of the Republican Indian National Council. “All the things he has gone through made him a tough guy. We will have to see whether he will make it. But, he has more funds than President Biden, and he has more fundraisers all over the country. I think he’s much ahead of Biden in the fundraiser. All the technologists in the country are supporting him, and all the rich and famous.”

Still, the debate won’t amount to much, said Democrat Ramesh Kapur.

“Obama also got demolished by Mitt Romney in debates, and everything but at the end of the day the key thing was Obama won,” Kapur said. “The problem is that whatever Trump keeps saying the main thing that matters on a macro level, is as long as the inflation is lower than the payroll rate of increase, no sitting president has lost. And that’s what has happened in Biden’s term. Now inflation is coming down, the payroll is still high. The percentage of difference is getting higher, that is the key thing. The second thing that will go against Trump is that he has 34 convictions. That’s his biggest Achilles heel.”

Kapur said Trump managed to evade the issue of his legal problems, steering the focus back to immigration whenever he could.

“But that’s the area where the numbers are going down, the illegals are decreasing,” Kapur said. “Our advertisements will keep reminding people that Biden wanted to solve the problem, he got bipartisan approval and Trump got it vetoed in the House because he wanted to make a political point. We’ll keep bringing that up. And the third thing is that whatever Trump says, everybody remembers how stressful it was when he was the President, listening to him every morning, his tweets, and the people just want a break. At the end of the day, you cannot change the stripe of a zebra.”