presidential debates

‘Likeable' Hillary, ‘Sweaty' Nixon: The Top 7 Moments in Presidential Debate History

Over the decades the presidential (and occasional vice-presidential) debates have often made for good water cooler talk the next day. But ever so rarely there's a debate moment that lives in infamy.

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As President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden prepare for their first nationally televised debate on Tuesday, here's a snapshot of other key debate moments throughout history that have helped shape, or in some cases torpedo, a presidential campaign.

'Sweaty' Richard Nixon vs. John F. Kennedy (1960)

There's a scene in the film "Broadcast News" where a nerve-wracked Albert Brooks breaks out in full body sweats as he anchors the news on live TV. Well imagine that taking place in real life on the presidential debate stage.

It was September 26, 1960, and the dawn of the television age. In the first nationally televised presidential debate Nixon appeared pale and was reportedly recovering from the flu. He was was also sweaty and unshaven. John F. Kennedy appeared tanned and calm and confident. According to reports at the time people who listened to the debate on the radio thought Nixon won. People who watched the debate thought Kennedy won. Kennedy would go on to narrowly win the election.

Ronald Reagan Takes the Mic (1980)

On February 23, 1980, the Telegraph in Nashua, New Hampshire, received national attention during the New Hampshire presidential primary when it hosted a Republican debate paid for by the campaign of former California Gov. Ronald Reagan.

During an argument over which candidates should be allowed to participate, Telegraph editor Jon Breen, acting as moderator, ordered Reagan's microphone be shut off, which was met with shouts of protest from the audience. Mispronouncing his name, Reagan rebuked Breen saying, "I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green!" which was cheered by the audience and applauded by most of his fellow opponents. The phrase entered the political lexicon and the publicity helped to boost Reagan's successful run for the presidency.

Lloyd Benson vs. Jack Kennedy Dan Quayle (1988)

Sometimes a single moment is all it takes. Sometimes a single line is so perfect it resonates through the ages. Lloyd Benson had such a moment and such a line during the 1988 vice-presidential debate when Dan Quayle, who had on previous occasions welcomed comparisons of himself to John F. Kennedy, did so once again during the debate... to devastating results.

Cold Michael Dukakis vs. Bernard Shaw (1988)

Perhaps there is no correct response when you're asked on live television how you would react if your wife were violently raped and murdered. But the general consensus was that Michael Dukakis' response, perceived as cold and dispassionate, was the wrong way to go.

George Bush Check the Time (1992)

Being president at the time , George Bush may have legitimately had somewhere else he needed to be. But still, it was largely perceived as a major gaffe when Bush decided to check his watch during a question about how his life was personally impacted by the national debt. He then stumbled through his answer, saying the national debt affects everyone because of interest rates and about loving his grandchildren. Bush would go on to lose to Bill Clinton.

Barack Obama vs. 'Likeable' Hillary Clinton (2008)

It was a loaded question to Hillary Clinton about her "likeability," or perceived lack thereof, compared to opponent Barack Obama. But Obama's attempt at levity didn't help matters when, in what was thought by many to be condescending manner, he said that Clinton was "likeable enough."

Glaring Trump Vs. Hillary Clinton (2016)

If you closed your eyes you might have heard the theme music from "Jaws" playing in the background as Donald Trump glared menacingly at Hillary Clinton as he prowled the debate stage, often coming just within a foot or two of Clinton as she took on questions. What appeared as merely peculiar at the time was to Clinton's mind much more bizarre. Clinton would later say Trump's behavior "made her skin crawl."

"This was not OK, I thought. It was the second presidential debate and Donald Trump was looming behind me. Two days before the world had heard about him groping women. Now we were on a small stage and no matter where I walked he followed me closely, staring at me, making faces," Clinton said. "It was incredibly uncomfortable. He was literally breathing down my neck. My skin crawled."

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