In turning from Trump toward the camera, Biden avoided being dragged down in the first presidential debate


The tactic to ignore Trump’s distractions and speak directly to the American people helped Biden navigate a chaotic debate, according to analysts and debate experts.

The former vice president didn’t have a great night, they said. He missed opportunities to counter some of Trump’s contentions with key facts and engaged in name-calling himself. But Trump set the bar low for Biden’s performance. And Trump’s barrage of interruptions and insults allowed Biden to look competent, empathetic, and presidential in comparison, said Aaron Kall, an expert on presidential debates at the University of Michigan.

“The best thing he did was, instead of showing his anger and channeling it directly toward Trump, he pivoted in several instances directly toward the camera,” said Kall, editor and coauthor of the 2016 book “Debating the Donald.” “He didn’t speak to Trump. He took his message directly to the viewers — the American people.”

This was the test Democrats had been awaiting and in some ways dreading for months: did Biden have the fight, the stamina, and the discipline to successfully battle Trump on the debate stage for 90 minutes? When the smoke cleared, Biden appeared to have emerged largely unscathed, with three scientific post-debate polls showing him as the winner.

“He benefited by the fact that, by comparison, Trump was much worse,” said Stuart Rothenberg, senior editor of the nonpartisan Inside Elections newsletter. “I think in the end Democrats probably took a deep breath, a sigh of relief, and said, ‘Joe did fine.’ “

That’s saying something given the fusillade of attacks from Trump, who has consistently trailed Biden in national and battleground state polls and needed to change the race’s trajectory.

A preliminary analysis by Mitchell S. McKinney, director of the Political Communication Institute at the University of Missouri, found that the debate exceeded the