As Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton prepare to face off for their first debate on Monday evening, these televised presidential debates are known to have a major impact on the public’s perception of a candidate and even on the final results of a presidential race.
Beginning with the very first televised presidential debates in the 1960s, the candidate face-offs have served as some of the most pivotal moments in the history of American politics.
Although the debates were not repeated until in 1976, they have been a staple ever since, reported NBC News.
Over the past decades, viewers worldwide have been entertained by the striking youthful vitality of John Kennedy to Ronald Reagan’s one-liners and Al Gore’s exaggerated sighs.
The debates draw attention, despite the superficial blunders or theatrical, or scripted lines — as they reveal much about the candidate.
Following are some of the most memorable examples put together by NBC News.
September 26, 1960 – John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon
The first televised presidential debate in US history was widely viewed as playing a crucial role in Democrat John F. Kennedy’s victory over Republican Vice President Richard Nixon in that year’s general election.
Political mythology holds that Americans thought Nixon came off better but Kennedy’s cool, attractive demeanor on television provided a winning contrast to Nixon’s sweaty discomfort.
October 22, 1976 – Gerald Ford vs Jimmy Carter
After a 16-year gap of televised debates, the face-offs between Democrat Jimmy Carter and Republican President Gerald Ford, were not really memorable. However, they did produce a moment which significantly impacted the final result.
After maintaining sizeable lead throughout, Ford squandered the momentum when he stumbled over a question regarding Poland, when he insisted it was not under “Soviet domination” — which it was, and Ford had to retract his statement — feeding into a perception that he was in over his head. Ford narrowly lost to Carter that November.
October 28, 1980, Ronald Reagan vs Jimmy Carter
Though the 1980 US election is best remembered for Republican Ronald Reagan’s landslide victory, their first and only televised debate mattered. Although there was widespread dissatisfaction with Carter, there were also deep concerns about Reagan’s experience and temperament.
However, Reagan succeeded in convincing the American voters that he was up for the job, and devastated the less dynamic Carter with a single one liner (“There you go again”); and an FDR-inspired closing statement (“Are you better off now, than you were four years ago?”) to which Carter never mustered a memorable retort.
October 11, 1992 – George H.W. Bush vs Bill Clinton vs Ross Perot.
The unusual inclusion of a third party candidate and an eccentric one at that — businessman Ross Perot — ensured an even greater level of interest in the 1992 presidential debates. They were also the first to introduce the so-called “town hall” format, which later turned into a staple.
This format was perceived as especially favourable to then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, who had become known for his intense eye contact and physical comfort with voters on the campaign trail. President George H. W. Bush was on the other hand, much more awkward in these kinds of encounters.
November 7, 2000 – Al Gore vs George W. Bush
Many have argued that Vice President Gore topped then-Texas Governor George W. Bush on substance, but he faltered in terms of style.
First, his sighing during Bush’s answers was deemed smug and disrespectful. Then, his aggressiveness — particularly when he appeared to be ready to pounce on Bush physically — was held against him. Bush was able to play the affable foil to the stiff and wonkish Gore.
Bush was contending with the image of being an intellectual lightweight, with many experts predicting he would crash and burn, but defying everything he won.
October 3, 2012 – Mitt Romney vs Barack Obama
After a lackluster first debate, President Obama saw his re-election chances in real peril as he headed into his second prime-time sparring match with Republican Mitt Romney.
During a back-and-forth over the recent embassy attack in Benghazi, Romney tried to take Obama to task for allegedly not calling it a terrorist attack.
A confident Obama urged moderator Candy Crowley to “get the transcript”, she eventually interjected and confirmed that the president had called the incident an “act of terror”.
While some viewers would later accuse Crowley of being in the tank for Obama, the moment exposed the vacuousness of Romney’s attack and played into the Democrats’ narrative that he was dishonest.