Who Won the First Presidential Debate?

Times Opinion asked 12 of our columnists and contributors to watch the presidential debate on Thursday night, assess who won and who lost and distill what stood out to them. They rated the candidates on a scale of 0 to 5: 0 means the night didn’t change anything; 5 means one man triumphed. Here’s what our columnists and contributors thought of the event.

Josh Barro Joe Biden failed at his key task: showing voters he’s still cut out for the presidency. In the first 20 minutes he was especially disastrous: mumbling, at times incoherent, and seeming really, really old. Trump seemed more normal than usual — enough for a clear win.

Jamelle Bouie Well, we had a raspy and stumbling President Biden and a deranged and incoherent Donald Trump, who spent two hours unleashing a stream of lies. Is there a winner here? Nah.

David French Trump won, but not because of Trump. The best that can be said about his comprehensively dishonest performance is that he didn’t seem unhinged. The lower-information voters who are propping up his campaign won’t know how much he lied. Biden lost this debate for a simple reason: He acted his age in a way that can’t be spun and can’t be explained away.

Michelle Goldberg Trump, God help us. He spouted a fire hose of preposterous lies, but Biden was too incoherent to capitalize on any of it. Biden looked ancient and sounded lost. There will now be a new chorus of cries for him to drop out, and I’ll be joining it.

Jean Guerrero Trump. He relied on anti-immigrant hatemongering to cast himself as a defender of Black and brown communities. “They’re taking Black jobs, and they’re taking Hispanic jobs,” he said. It was deceptive and degenerate, but Biden had no strategy against it, and nobody fact-checked Trump. His scapegoating will resonate with many struggling people.

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