Laugh (or cringe) at these historic moments from the presidential debates

WASHINGTON — It can be a well-rehearsed zinger or an offhand, overly raucous sigh.

Notable moments from previous presidential debates demonstrate how candidates’ words and body language can make them seem particularly credible or hopelessly out of touch. They can also present candidates who are at the top of their political game or suggest they’re heading to sea.

Will the past be prologue during President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump’s debate in Atlanta on Thursday?

“The debates being live television events, with no script and no knowledge of how they’re going to evolve — anything can happen,” said Alan Schroeder, author of “The Presidential Debates: 50 Years of High-Risk Television.”

Here are some standout moments, demanding moments and demanding moments from past presidential debates.

This question about elderly age (again)

When everyone knows a sensitive question is going to come up and you still make the answer sound unplanned, you’re having a good debate. Republican President Ronald Reagan found himself in a long line at the second presidential debate in 1984 after a disappointing first matchup.

Reagan was 73 years elderly and running for a second term against Democratic opponent Walter Mondale, who was 56 years elderly at the time. During the first debate, Reagan had trouble remembering facts and appeared confused at times.

One of his top advisers, Nevada Sen. Paul Laxalt, later suggested that his advisers “filled his head with so many facts and figures that he lost his spontaneity.”

So Reagan’s team took a more casual approach to his second bout with Mondale. And when Reagan heard a question about his mental and physical strength that he needed to know, he was ready enough to make the answer seem unplanned.

“You are already the oldest president in history,” moderator Henry Trewhitt said before asking if Reagan would be able to handle a challenge like the Cuban Missile Crisis.

“Not at all,” Reagan replied, defending his crisis management shrewdness. He continued smoothly: “I want you to know that I will not make age the focus of this campaign. “I do not intend to use my opponent’s youth and inexperience for political purposes.”

” READ MORE: First Lady Jill Biden to Philadelphia donors: ‘Let’s talk about age’

Then, drawing on years of comedy training honed in Hollywood, the president took a sip of water, giving the audience, and even Mondale, who had broken down himself, more time to laugh. Finally he smiled and left no doubt that he had rehearsed his answer, adding: “It was Seneca or Cicero, I don’t know which, who said: ‘If it were not for the elders correcting the mistakes of the young, there would be no state.’

Years later, Mondale said that television viewers saw him laughing: “I think if you get close you’ll see the tears falling because I knew he was the one who got me there.” That was really the end of my campaign that night.”

Reagan thus proved that even a candidate at his age can become better over time. And with this year’s race pitting 81-year-old Biden against 78-year-old Trump, 73 doesn’t seem so elderly anymore.

Reagan is also remembered for gently neutralizing criticism from Democratic President Jimmy Carter during a 1980 debate.

When Carter accused him of wanting to cut Medicare, Reagan scolded him: “There you go again.” The text worked so well that he later turned it into a sort of trademarked replica.

” READ MORE: Biden and Trump agree to presidential debates on June 27 on CNN and September 10 on ABC

Lots of gaffes

In 1976, Republican President Gerald Ford had a telling moment during his second debate against Carter—and not in a good way. The president declared that “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration.”

Since Moscow controls much of this part of the world, moderator Max Frankel responded: “I’m sorry, what…?” and asked if he understood correctly. Ford stuck to his answer, then spent days on the campaign trail trying to explain it. He lost that November.

“The closer we get to the election, the more twists and turns and important lines of debate may come into play,” said Aaron Kall, director of the debate program at the University of Michigan. “Not just who won or who lost, but also how it will impact fundraising and how it will impact the media cycle in the days and weeks ahead.”

Not all lip slips are devastating.

Then-sleep. Barack Obama said disparagingly to Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, “You’re likable enough, Hillary.” This haughty response sparked a backlash, but Obama recovered.

The same can’t be said about then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s short-lived 2012 Republican bid for the White House. Despite repeated attempts and unbearably long pauses, Perry could not remember the third of three federal agencies he had promised to close if elected.

Finally he muttered timidly, “Oops.”

The Department of Energy slipped his mind.

” READ MORE: Biden is struggling in Pennsylvania — even with his base — because voters prefer Trump on key issues. Here are the findings from the Inquirer/NYT/Siena poll.

More and more personal

Another damaging moment opened the second presidential debate in 1988, when CNN anchor Bernard Shaw pressed Democrat Michael Dukakis, the governor of Massachusetts, on his opposition to the death penalty with a question that brought up the candidate’s wife.

“If Kitty Dukakis was raped and murdered, would you support the permanent death penalty for the killer?” he asked Shaw. Dukakis showed no emotion, replying: “I don’t see any evidence that it’s a deterrent.”

Dukakis later said he would like to say that his wife “is the most precious thing, she and my family, that I have in this world.”

This year’s vice presidential debate featured one of the most memorable, pre-planned one-liners.

When Dan Quayle, the Republican vice presidential candidate and senator from Indiana, compared himself to John F. Kennedy during a debate with Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen, the Democrat was ready. He watched Quayle’s campaign and saw him bring up Kennedy in the past.

“Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy, Bentsen began slowly and thoughtfully, drawing out the moment. “Jack Kennedy was my friend. Senator, you are not Jack Kennedy.

The audience erupted in applause and laughter. Quayle stared straight ahead.

” READ MORE: More Pa. voters trust Trump than President Biden on economy

Mistakes without words

Quayle and George H. W. Bush still won the 1988 election easily. But they lost in 1992 when then-President Bush was filmed looking at his watch while Democrat Bill Clinton spoke to an audience member during a town hall debate. Some thought it made Bush look bored and indifferent.

In another case of nonverbal debate blunder, then-Democratic Vice President Al Gore was criticized for a weak performance at the beginning of a 2000 debate with Republican George W. Bush, during which he sighed repeatedly and very loudly.

During the second debate, held in a friendly atmosphere, Gore got so close to Bush while the Republican was answering one question that Bush finally looked at him and with a confident nod drew laughter from the audience.

A similar moment occurred in 2016 when Hillary Clinton stood before the audience to answer questions during her second debate with Trump. The Republican candidate walked up behind her, narrowed his eyes and glared.

Clinton did not visibly react at the time, but she later wrote of the incident: “He was literally breathing down my neck. My skin crawled.”

” READ MORE: Trump youth movement: Why some adolescent voters in deep blue Philadelphia support the former president

Biden-Trump repeat

Thursday’s resumption will be the first debate between the current president and the former.

Historically, officials have sometimes faced difficulties during opening debates. They are used to being surrounded by White House advisers who raise no objections. In 2012, then-President Obama’s seemingly impartial performance in the first debate against Mitt Romney allowed the Republican to gain momentum.

However, during the second debate, Romney experienced an awkward moment.

Responding to a question about gender pay equity, the former Massachusetts governor mentioned reaching out to women’s groups for assist finding qualified women to run for the state’s top jobs.

“They brought us a whole bunch of women,” he declared. Obama turned that into an attack line at subsequent rallies, saying gleefully, “We don’t have to collect a bunch of binders to find qualified, talented, determined young women.”

If Biden’s debate skills are rusty this time, his opponent’s skills may be rusty as well. This time, Trump skipped all GOP primaries, meaning he hasn’t entered a single one since facing Biden twice in 2020.

Trump interrupted their first debate so often four years ago that Biden finally shouted, “Shut up, man?” – a touching moment if ever there was one. That evening, Trump is remembered for instructing members of the far right Proud boys group from the stage to “step back and stand to the side.” Some members of the extremist group took this as a sign of encouragement.

During the second Biden-Trump debate in 2020, producers turned off their microphones to discourage interruptions and reduce chaos. It featured Biden wistfully declaring, “I can’t wait for this race. I can’t wait for it to happen.”

It happened. And now it’s happening again.

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