How Presidential Debates Transformed Over Time | WSJ

How Presidential Debates Transformed Over Time | WSJ

(crowd applauding)
(tapping wood block) – [Narrator] Televised
presidential debates have been an American political tradition for the past 60 years, but while they’re far from perfect, they’re still beneficial to voters as a means to learn about a candidate. – That was locker room talk. – [Narrator] What’s more, they can make or break an election, so what, if anything, can
be done to improve them? – The candidates need no introduction. – [Narrator] It’s telling
that the first ever televised presidential debate in 1960 between candidates Richard
Nixon and John F. Kennedy remains famous not for what was said, but for how each candidate looked. – Senator Kennedy– – [Narrator] Although Nixon
and Kennedy talked extensively about the big issues of the time, like the Cold War and civil rights, what is best remembered today is each candidate’s appearance. – The Nixon-Kennedy debates in 1960 were actually the beginning of the modern televised debate era. There was actually four debates in 1960, but what everybody remembers
is the first debate where Kennedy looked healthy and Nixon looked sweaty and sick. He paid a price for that,
and what people remembered was how they looked, not what they said. – [Narrator] For better or worse, the Kennedy-Nixon matchup set a precedent of style over substance that’s only grown more
prevalent in televised debates. – What tends to be remembered
from debates are moments, and usually they’re moments
of gaffes or mistakes, not high moments or great moments. – [Narrator] That was the case
with the next debate in 1976, when President Gerald Ford faced off against his Democratic
challenger, Jimmy Carter. – What Ford said really wasn’t a gaffe. It just sort of came out not
the way he intended it to be. – There is no Soviet
domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be
under a Ford administration. – What he said, essentially, was the people of Poland
don’t consider themselves to be subjugated to Soviet
rule, and that was true. The way it came across and
the way it was portrayed, unfortunately for him,
was that he was naive. He thought the Polish
people weren’t really under the Soviet thumb when, in fact, of course, in those days, they were. That’s, again, what everybody
remembered from that debate, and it didn’t help him. – You already are the
oldest president in history. – [Narrator] Poignant moments in a debate can also help a candidate. In 1984, Ronald Reagan
famously put questions about his age to bed with this quip. – I will not make age an
issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit
for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience. – In the first debate, Reagan
didn’t look all that good. He looked a little old. He was stumbling around a bit. That produced some stories,
including, ironically, a famous one on the front page
of the Wall Street Journal that said the age factor has arisen, so the Reagan campaign
knew going into that debate they had an age issue to deal with. It did diffuse the age question for the rest of that campaign. – [Narrator] Modern debates also have the added pressure of going viral. – Sometimes debate
moments that don’t go well can be not just bad,
they can be almost fatal. – It’s three agencies of government when I get there that are gone, Commerce, Education, and the, uh, what’s the third one there, let’s see. – That was the case for Rick Perry in 2011 when he got halfway into a debate answer and then couldn’t remember the rest of it. – The third one I can’t, sorry. (crowd chuckling)
Oops. – Or Mitt Romney’s famous slipup in 2012. – I went to a number of women’s groups and said can you help us find folks, and they brought us whole
binders full of women. – [Gerald] He was trying to
say that I have paid attention to advancing women in my career, I have a record of doing it,
but it came across badly. It came across in a way that made it look as if women were nothing but sheets of paper in a binder to him. – [Narrator] Clearly,
debates can have an effect on the outcome of an election, but what can be done to improve them? – I think it’s crucial when
you’re analyzing debates to distinguish between
primary season debates and general election debates. They’re two quite different animals, and I think, in my opinion, one works way better than the other. – [Narrator] Primary debates
tend to be free-for-alls where there’s no particular
format or formula from one debate to the next. – They tend to be sponsored
by media organizations, sometimes by state parties, sometimes by combinations
of all of the above. – [Narrator] In contrast,
the general election debates are a bit more sober and controlled. – General election debates are conducted with the Commission on
Presidential Debates, which was established in 1987, which has done this through
eight presidential cycles and which knows how to do it right and in a distinguished way. – [Narrator] One proposal is to remove live studio audiences. – And from the Wall Street
Journal, Jerry Seib. – Well, first of all,
I’ve done three debates with live audiences who are partisans, and so I know what the atmosphere is like, and it can be problematic. It basically becomes a
campaign rally to some extent, and I don’t think it’s the ideal way to hold a presidential debate. – Hell yes, we’re gonna take
your AR-15, your AK-47– – A smaller audience that is not filled with campaign partisans
is a better way to go. – [Narrator] Another, at
least for the primaries, is to reduce the number
of candidates on stage. – A debate with too many
candidates is very unwieldy. It’s hard to conduct a meaningful,
substantive conversation that follows a logical progression. – We don’t have time for tone– – [Narrator] The biggest question hanging over the 2020 debates is the issue of President
Donald Trump’s participation. – What President Trump has said is that he thinks the Debate Commission was unfair to him in 2016, and he’s not sure he’s gonna agree to do the three presidential
debates that they have set up. I think that would be a mistake. I think it would be bad for the country, bad for the campaign, bad for democracy. It’s easy to be critical of debates, ’cause they could be very messy and they’re not always perfect, but when I think about
debates, I think a little bit about what Winston Churchill
said about democracy. He said democracy’s the
worst form of government except every other form of government that anybody’s ever tried. They can be messy, they’re not perfect, but they’re a better way
to get the candidates to address voters and address each other and address issues than
anything else I can think of. (pleasant orchestral music)

100 Replies to “How Presidential Debates Transformed Over Time | WSJ”


  2. Whoever the DNC picks as the candidate, President Trump will clearly be the winner in the debates. What are the democrats running on for most of the states to elect them as the next president ?

  3. The Commission on Presidential Debates is a scam foisted on the American people by the DNC & RNC to exclude all alternatives. The prior debates were run by the nonpartisan League of Women Voters, a far more trustworthy grassroots organization.

  4. Only one is qualified far as Democrats and that's Bloomberg. The man is worth 60 Billion dollars. How can you corrupt or bribe someone that's already extremely rich? Think about that. He probaly know all the world leaders names too. That's good because if your look to run a government you have to know names of leaders and the names of some that work under them. My opinion which dont matter but it's a plus if you understand economics not just law. People say United States shouldn't be ran like a business but why not? so many countries are making money from the US and look at the US as their cash cow far as their exports( GDP ). So why not run it like a business

  5. 1st debate were all against Trump and we love each other, Trump is our focus. , recently, are you calling me a liar, a racist, dumb ? , you call women fat broads and horsefaced lesbians! Release those ndas you rich white misogynist,,release your medical records ! ya millionaire socialist with 3 houses, yes it's very interesting how it changes .

  6. The only statement I agree on is excluding the live audience. This is unfair to "unpopular" candidates who can't seem to get their point accross because the audience are rude and loud with their arrogant boo…

  7. Well instead of thinking of your greedy self think bout what's wright and wrong it's not right to throw someone in jail for them doing the same thing u r doing u just Rob everyone

  8. Clowns are allowed in the debate now, this are actually clowns from other country not Americans that is why they support illegal immigration and not the American people. Hypocrites and liars.

  9. I just have to ask one thing are they going to make Donald Trump stay at his Podium where he supposed to be ? instead of standing behind the other candidates like he's going to sucker punch them like the coward he is !

  10. Moderators in these debates need to ask a question a shut the F up. Enough with the liberal bias. If they keep being bias then yes people will boycott them. For example when the moderator asked Bernie if he said a woman couldn’t be president, Bernie replied no he did not say that. Then the next question to Elizabeth Warren, what do you think about Bernie saying women can’t be president? 🤦‍♂️ Or moderators questioning a fact or statistic. That’s not your job and you are often wrong moderators. Ask your question and move on. Quit cheating too. Like Hillary being hand fed the questions and still losing the debate lol.

  11. Is that what people said about the first Kennedy/Nixon debate? I just looked it up on Youtube and I have no idea what they were talking about. Nixon not only doesn't look sick and sweaty, he's more animated than Kennedy.


  12. Good points but, if youre the incumbent what do you have to gain in a debate. Especially when you have a strong economy, which is typically a sign you're going to be reelected. I mean it'd be fun to watch in 2020 but, what would someone like Trump have to gain.


  14. “ Trump feels the debate commission was unfair to him” . I mean Hillary quite literally did get all the debate questions given to her beforehand, but ok let’s ignore that.

  15. The debates stopped being useful after the League of Women Voters was ousted from sponsorship and the Party's replaced the League in 1987.

  16. Republicanos y demócratas son basura es como el prian digo PRI y pan trabajan juntos son corruptos asta más no poder

  17. All the presidential candidates seem to have a shameful past regarding black Americans. What a pathetic shame since they are all old enough to have grown from America's disgrace. Black Americans still have years to recover from slavery and discrimination. They have no forefathers to inherent anything from since most of their grandparents were either in slavery or suffered Jim Crow laws. The only thing a candidate can do if he/she wants to win the entire black vote/no questions asked is to pay reparations. Black Americans do not need any funds to be dispersed by any programs. Each individual should be paid directly. Atleast one million each. It is only roughly 42million Black Americans. The money would go back into the economy. So whoever wants to win big, really big; the Black Americans would run to the polls. But stubbern pride always stands in the way. The problem is there are boys and girls running for office, not strong men and women who truly cares about America. Black Americans never blame current white America for slavery, they are too open minded and smart for this nonsense. Black Americans just have a deep rooted hurt and knows America should pay to repair their pain. Many have educated themselves to very high levels but still see a token few to be given chances. If Yang has figured out AI would eliminate many jobs in the future leaving many Americans out of work, how
    to help pay people, surely atleast one of the candidates can think big and ahead of power and self-serving foolishness. Most importantly, if either is truly sorry then they show it with deeds not words. Guess these truths are just rants to the closed mind and stiff necks. Now this would be a true leader with power, not just a person with authority and a title.

  18. Are they running for power or to truly make a difference? America is heading into two classes of people. Capitalism is still the best for each indivdual, but it has to be improved. The wealthy are getting wealthier and the middleclass is becoming poorer. The poor cannot afford the wealthy products and the middleclass struggles. So this is a loosing battle. Hope some finacial expert can figure it out where it is a win/win for all.

  19. Perry was already done by "Oops." His downfall came at the previous debate when he said if you want to deport illegal immigrant grandmas then "you don't have a heart"

  20. The same guy in this video really tried hard to get Trump out of the race in 2016. He’s one of the conservative “never trumpers”.

  21. The last few debates I have watched are simply a disrespect and an insult to the intelligence of We The People. These debates are full of attacks among the contenders with absolutely no solid, intelligent arguments. There’s very little substance of what the real solutions are to the true problems in the country. There shouldn’t be live audience. The candidates should answer the question without deviating the subject at an attack on the other contender unless there the proper argument. We should demand this.

  22. I think you misspelled Devolved. You can’t even call these debates. I’d call it the Panderthon. Or the Super Bowl of Pandering.

  23. The Demacrats are starting to look like goony birds in tuxes and i think. like one to They want to make america russia .Burnie was married in Russia and sangs songs with their millatery So it's not The demacrats think their fooling american citizen so don't be their fool .demacrats are communest s

  24. Trump can barely speak proper english at a 4th grade level. Now think about that for a minute and then question the intelligence of his supporters.

  25. If Trump doesn’t show up to debate Sanders, that will only bolster the view many folks have of his thin skinned, artificially-tough personality. It would be devastating for his re-election efforts.

  26. For starters the DNC should stop altering debate rules to benefit the candidate they want versus the candidate the citizens vote for. Yes I’m talking about the 2020 debates.

  27. Yes, you're completely right. It has evolved into kids fighting over a shiny new toy. They lie more often than anyone else combined.

  28. Please…for Dummies Yes , but not for those who are eyes open . These people are nothing more than pretending Stooges Soap Opera Players to blind the people of the reality . Most of them should have Horns and Tails by now . America's Democracy and Politics is a Joke .

  29. The author of this video should have done more research before posting it. Maybe they have never heard of Andrew Jackson?

  30. I've always looked at Ford the same way you look at a substitute teacher. Ford just filled in for Nixon till that administration was up. I don't even think he wanted to be President he just viewed his job as preventing a Democrat being in the White House. Just my theory.

  31. The debate is a joke all staged geee im going to ask you a question what you already know on how to answer and also are you going to do is point what the other person haven't done versus what you can do and what you have done cuz God knows everybody knows what the person has about done but you going to make it clear that they never did what they wanted to

  32. Evolution? Transformed? 😂😂🤣. That’s really funny…. De-evolution and transmutated into tired children with dirty diapers who are crying because they want their binky that fell on the floor.

  33. Answer:

    Somehow now we're locked in a 2 party system forever with only 2 "separate views" "that can never overlap"…
    I'm a Constitutional Conservative Liberatarian. I think the government should adhere to the letters of the Constitution and stay out of most things civilian related…

    That's the beauty of the this Democratic Republic. The states compete against each other with policies for the most success. And people move accordingly.

    Bottom line is the Federal Government is too strong right now and needs to be reigned in… Whether you "Democrat" or "Republican".

  34. Trump is the only reason why I started watching the debates. His insults right to their faces is hilarious! He’s going to make a circus out any of the Democratic runners. lol

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