Andrew Malcolm writes in The Sacramento Bee about the role of presidential debates in the election campaign.
American politics were forever changed with the first nationally televised presidential debate, exactly 56 years ago. …
As if to underscore debates’ enduring if dubious import in the country’s modern politics, this year’s pair of presidential wannabes will clash on Long Island for 90 minutes on the anniversary.
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton each have much to prove – and disprove – during what was, in effect, a forerunner of reality TV. Initially, not much was expected of Trump, a rookie politician who turned that disadvantage around in the year of the outsider to defeat 16 far more experienced, qualified Republican Party opponents.
Trump arguably has the easier task, to appear well-behaved, informed, disciplined and, most importantly, presidential, as he did during a meeting with Mexico’s president early this month. The 70-year-old Trump needs to erase or at least dilute stark memories of outrageous, even crude, onstage comments and behavior last year.
No doubt Clinton, who has been practicing since midsummer, will attempt to bait him into missteps, as she promised during her July convention acceptance speech. …
… TV debates – with their 90-second opening statements, 30-second rebuttals and no aides at hand – have absolutely nothing to do with how a president operates.
Can you remember anything from past debates? Chances are, you recall one-liners, scripted and memorized in advance to make a candidate look quick.
And here’s a news flash to remember as you hear the winner and loser hailed and criticized in the aftermath: Debate winners are not necessarily election winners. Mitt Romney cleaned Obama’s clock in the Denver debate four years ago. As usual, the poll bounce was short-lived.
In 1984, Ronald Reagan blew all four tires in his first debate with Walter Mondale, appearing tired and all of his 73 years. He bounced back two weeks later with the disarming “quip” that he wouldn’t hold against Mondale the ex-vice president’s inexperience and youth; Fritz was 56 then.
Years later, Mondale told me that although he laughed on camera, he knew right then that he had lost. Indeed, he did. Reagan captured nearly 59 percent of the popular vote and the most electoral votes in history, 525 of 538. Mondale won but one state, Minnesota, and that by only 3,671 votes.