US allies fear a new Trump presidency may be one step closer after Biden ‘implodes’ at CNN debate

Joe Biden’s rocky performance against Donald Trump at the first televised presidential debate of the 2024 US election cycle has left some of America’s foreign allies bracing for a belated second Trump presidency.

The president, 81, spoke in a hoarse and raspy voice on the CNN debate stage in Atlanta, Georgia, cutting a frail figure and trailing off while speaking at least once, leaving his gloating Republican rival, 78, to observe: “I really don’t know what he said at the end of that sentence. I don’t think he knows what he said either.”

The White House later said Biden was suffering from a cold but he also missed multiple chances to hold Trump to account over his recent criminal conviction and chaotic record in office from 2017 to 2021, which ended with the failed assault on the US Capitol by a violent mob of his supporters.

Biden did rally somewhat in the second half of the 90-minute encounter to attack the billionaire businessman over his sleazy personal history and alleged “suckers and losers” remark regarding the military but, overall, Biden’s performance left his fellow Democrats in “deep panic”, with some openly speculating about replacing him as their party’s nominee.

Among those watching in horror overseas was the former British ambassador to the US Lord Kim Darroch, who told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday morning: “Joe Biden should stand aside. This was a historically bad performance. He was inaudible, incoherent and lost his train of thought several times.

“Some of his answers simply made no sense. The one, ‘we have beaten Medicare’, will be repeated a thousand times between now and the election. He should stand down – it’s very hard to see him winning now.”

Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of Britain’s Labour Party and the frontrunner in next week’s UK general election, was also asked by the BBC whether he was concerned about Biden in light of the debate.

“I’ve got enough on my hands with our own election campaign at the moment… The relationship between the UK and the US is strong, it’s historic, and obviously, it’s above the individuals,” he answered carefully, notably not offering the president an emphatic show of support.

Joe Biden leaves the CNN debate stage in Atlanta (Getty)
Joe Biden leaves the CNN debate stage in Atlanta (Getty)

While many in Europe and the Middle East will wonder what the prospect of a new Trump administration might mean for the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, the Kremlin declined to comment, with Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov refusing to rise to Biden’s warning during the head-to-head that the Russian president could move in on Poland and other Nato allies if he takes Kyiv.

A Western diplomat quoted by Politico said they had spotted “enormous lies by Trump” during the showdown but added: “On the other hand, at least we understood what he says. Maybe we are witnessing a turning point.”

Broadcaster CNN was criticised for not carrying out real-time fact-checking during the debate but its expert Daniel Dale subsequently recorded at least 30 misleading statements by Trump compared to nine from Biden.

“Internationally this isn’t a great look for America, at the risk of stating the obvious,” another diplomat told Politico.

“The debate on foreign policy is shallow. Biden cannot present his case, and Trump is overstating it,” said a third.

Former Japanese diplomat Kunihiko Miyake, now research director at the Canon Institute for Global Studies think-tank, told the Associated Press: “Mr Trump didn’t win but Mr Biden might have imploded.

One former Japanese diplomat said: ‘Mr Trump didn’t win but Mr Biden might have imploded’ (Reuters)
One former Japanese diplomat said: ‘Mr Trump didn’t win but Mr Biden might have imploded’ (Reuters)

“Unlike eight years ago, we are much more prepared, as are other European and Asian allies. Still, Mr Trump is unpredictable.”

During his presidency, Trump took an aggressive stance on economic competition from Asia, starting a heated tariff war with China.

Thursday night’s spectacle left the likes of Stephen Lee, chief economist at Meritz Securities in Seoul, South Korea, anticipating a revival.

“Trump, like a trade war maniac, might not just target China but impose tariffs against other countries as well under the concept of American exceptionalism,” he said.

In Australia, Professor Peter Dean of the United States Studies Centre in Sydney concluded: “The overwhelming feeling from today is that it was a disaster for Biden.

“The mood has changed considerably after the debate and the general view is that if you weren’t preparing for a Trump 2.0 then that is the smart play and the smart move now.”