Presidential debates have become a regular feature of presidential campaigns. Whereas they are not required by law they have become something candidates have been unable to avoid. All they can do is attempt to influence the ground rules in their favor. Seemingly minor factors, such as the temperature in the debate room, can turn out out to be significant.

In my opinion, determining the winner and loser of a debate is extremely subjective. People tend to favor their candidate of choice.

Most voters will soon forget the substance of who said what. However, one way to “win” a debate is for the candidate to utter a memorable quip or zinger or for is opponent to commit a gaffe that people remember. With that in mind I compiled a list of what are generally considered the most memorable quotes, quips and gaffes from presidential election debates.

But, first a few quiz questions to test your knowledge:

  1. The first televised debate between presidential candidates was (a) Lincoln – Douglas, (b) Truman – Dewey, (c) Eisenhower- Stevenson, (d) Kennedy – Nixon.
  2. Each of the following will serve as a moderator for one of this year’s debates, EXCEPT (a) Steve Scully, (b) Anderson Cooper, (c) Chris Wallace, (d) Kristen Welker.
  3. The first debate will be held on (a) Sep 28, (b) Sep 29, (c) Oct 6, (d) Oct 13.
  4. The first debate will be in (a) Cleveland, (b) Chicago, (c) Washington, DC, (d) NY.
  5. How many presidential debates are scheduled? (a) 1, (b) 2, (c) 3, (d) 4.
  6. Debates between VP candidates have been held regularly since (a) 1960, (b) 1972, (c) 1980, (d) 1984.

Memorable quotes, quips and gaffes

Who said it:

7. “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under [my] administration.” (a) Ford, (b) Nixon, (c) Carter, (d) McGovern.

8. “There you go again.” (a) Trump, (b) G. W Bush, (c) Reagan, (d) Bill Clinton

9. “Where’s the beef?” (a) Mondale, (b) Carter, (c) Gore, (d) Reagan

10. “…. They brought us whole binders full of women.” ( a) Johnson, (b) Kennedy, (c) Romney, (d) Kerry

11. “Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. You’re no Jack Kennedy.” (a) Johnson, (b) Bentsen, (c) Carter, (d) Humphrey

12. “You’re likeable enough…” (a) Ford, (b) Kennedy, (c) Obama, (d) Trump

13. “I will not make age an issue in this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” (a) Nixon, (b) Goldwater, (c) Hillary Clinton, (d) Reagan

Answers: (1) d; (2) b; (3) b; (4) a; (5) c; (6) d; (7) a; (8) c; (9) a; (10) c; (11) b; 12. c; 13. d.


In most cases, I believe the ultimate impact of the debates on the ensuing election has been questionable. That has especially been true with respect to the VP debates. In fact, many voters do not even watch it.

However, I think this year will be an exception. Many voters are keen to see how Biden will hold up due to questions that have been raised about his mental acuity and stamina. Others are anxious to see President Trump’s response to criticism of his administration’s handling of the COVID pandemic. Both sides will want to see the candidates’ positions on the issue of mail-in voting.

Furthermore, the VP debate will be more significant than normally since many voters suspect Harris would exert unusually strong influence and control over a President Biden. For example, in recent conversations with the media both Biden and Harris have referred to a “Harris-Biden ticket.” One such reference could be passed off as an error. However, each candidate has committed that “slip” at least once, which leads some to wonder.

In addition, there is serious doubt that Biden would even be able to complete the term of office, should he win. So, to me, this year the debates will be more significant that normally.


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