Thu. Jul 25th, 2024

Joe Biden and Donald Trump clash in first 2024 presidential debate – video highlights

US elections 2024

Some call for rethink by Democrats and say continent must step up preparations for another Trump term

Fri 28 Jun 2024 18.02 BST

European politicians, already drowning in multiple crises of their own, were left shell-shocked and aghast at Joe Biden’s meandering performance in Thursday’s presidential debate, aware that a second Trump term had drawn that much nearer – with all that this implies for the rise of populism in the continent, the future of Nato, and for Ukraine and the Middle East.

The voices of despair came from across the mainstream political spectrum, interspersed with the odd call for Europe to prepare even more intensively for a Trump second coming.

“American democracy killed before our eyes by gerontocracy,” Guy Verhofstadt, a member of the European parliament and a former prime minister of Belgium, posted on X.

The German CDU foreign policy specialist Norbert Röttgen said: “This night will not be forgotten. The Democrats have to rethink their choices now. And Germany must prepare at full speed for an uncertain future. If we don’t take responsibility for European security now, no one will.”

The Polish foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, issued the most delphic advice about the importance of planning succession. “Marcus Aurelius was a great emperor but he screwed up his succession by passing the baton to his feckless son Commodus (he from the Gladiator). Whose disastrous rule started Rome’s decline. It’s important to manage one’s ride into the sunset.” Whether Barack Obama or Biden was cast in the role of Aurelius was unclear.

Dr Leslie Vinjamuri, the director of the Americas programme at the Chatham House thinktank, who is deeply immersed in Democratic politics, struggled to make a case for Biden’s defence, even though she said she regarded his policy performance as strong.

“It is universally agreed this was a very challenging debate,” she said. “President Biden had a very slow start and struggled throughout – admittedly in a very difficult format. To be in a room for 90 minutes without any audience is gruelling and not what President Biden was able to meet.”

Although she accused Trump of engaging in fact-free debate on pretty much every issue, she felt the debate “will leave most Americans despairing”.

In a tweet she was more blunt, saying: “America and Americans are best when they see a problem, seize on it, find a solution. Make it happen.”

Carl Bildt, a co-chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations thinktank and a former Swedish prime minister, said Biden’s performance was so bad that the ECFR’s six published warnings about Trump’s foreign policy was “now required reading”.

One of the warnings is that a deep nightmare lurks beneath the potential foreign policy shocks that Trump would cause. Bildt said an international coalition “could emerge as a framework for populists in Europe to establish special ties with Trump’s Washington. Trump’s re-election might well embolden the populist right in Europe to obstruct common EU policies and initiatives more forcefully.”

Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, of Germany’s liberal FDP, told the Rheinische Post: “The fact that a man like Trump could become president again because the Democrats are unable to put up a strong candidate against him would be a historic tragedy that the whole world would feel.”

Indeed, one of the messages being conveyed directly to the White House was that this was about not just America but the world.

In Italy, the former prime minister Matteo Renzi said simply: “Joe Biden can’t do it.” He wrote on X that Biden had served the US with honour, adding: “He doesn’t deserve an inglorious ending, he doesn’t deserve one. Changing horses is a duty for everyone.”

Ukraine’s foreign ministry gave no response to Trump’s ominous remarks during the debate that Kyiv had taken too much military aid from the US, and his reference to Volodymyr Zelenskiy as a “salesman”.

Trump repeated his claim that had he been president in 2022, Russia would not have launched the full-scale invasion, and he said a peace settlement would be agreed between his election in November and inauguration in January. Moscow affected indifference, saying Vladimir Putin had not woken up specially to watch the debate.

The Russian official press was less merciful. “Biden unexpectedly misspoke multiple times and stammered. Democrats have already called his performance a failure,” the state news agency RIA concluded while leaving Trump free of criticism.

In the UK, Rishi Sunak said the only debate he was interested in was the one he was holding with Keir Starmer about Labour’s plans to raise taxes.

Silence emanated from David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary, whose imminent period in office is destined to be defined by America’s choice in November. He has made strenuous efforts to meet all shades of Republicanism, and even argued that Trump may not be as bad as some predictions.

But one of Lammy’s closest allies, Ben Rhodes, who was among Barack Obama’s most senior aides, posted: “Just think about what that debate looked like to people and leaders around the world … Telling people they didn’t see what they saw is not the way to respond to this.”

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#Biden #European #politicians #shocked #presidents #debate #flop #elections

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