Presidential debates almost never affect the outcome of a race. Gallup election polling trends tell us so.
But every once in a while they do serve up a TV moment for the ages.
As Republican candidates prepare to square off in Cleveland on Thursday for the first time in this election cycle, here are some of the more memorable debate moments in presidential election history.
“Who am I? Why am I here?”
Decorated Vietnam veteran James Stockdale, Ross Perot’s running mate in 1992, delivered what is arguably the most memorable of all debate introductions. If Twitter had been around back then, he would have blown up social media.
“You’re no Jack Kennedy”
It’s the slam that lives in infamy. During the 1988 vice presidential debate between Lloyd Bentsen and Dan Quayle, the 41-year-old Quayle compared his years of experience to President John F. Kennedy’s. Bentsen pounced: “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”
Get that man a breathing mask
Al Gore, sigh, couldn’t stop sighing, sigh, during his first presidential debate, sigh, against George W. Bush, sigh, in 2000. CNN said Gore looked like a teacher’s pet who knew all the answers “but was annoying and irritating.” Sigh.
“There you go again”
Never have four little words had such a large impact as they did when Ronald Reagan uttered them while debating Jimmy Carter in 1980.
Got a train to catch?
During a town hall-style debate in 1992, then-President George H.W. Bush made the unfortunate mistake of checking the time at an inopportune moment, giving the impression that he’d rather be anywhere else but answering this audience member’s question.
Not even for my wife
During the 1988 presidential debates, CNN’s Bernard Shaw asked anti-death penalty candidate Mike Dukakis whether he would support the death penalty if the governor’s wife, Kitty, were raped and murdered. The Massachusetts governor famously stood by his principles, but his wonkish, dispassionate answer did not sit well with voters.
And the crowd booed
Hillary Clinton thought she was being clever when, during a debate against Barack Obama in 2008, she quipped: “Lifting whole passages from someone else’s speeches is not change you can believe in, it’s change you can Xerox.” It bombed.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry couldn’t shake his “all hat, no cattle” label after this moment in November 2011 when he couldn’t remember the three agencies he would abolish if he became president. What are the odds the question will come up again this week?
During their second debate in 2008, John McCain referred to Barack Obama as “that one.” Obama got him back later at a charity dinner by joking, “What you may not know is Barack is actually Swahili for ‘that one.’”
Most famous debate of all
During the first-ever televised presidential debate, between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, Nixon famously sweated profusely under the hot lights in the TV studio. Did it matter? We still speak of the moment 55 years later.