The Great Debate: Putting It In Perspective
As Monday night approaches, with the much anticipated first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, it is a perfect time to put it in perspective and offer a preview of what to look for as you watch. The idea of a televised presidential debate is a relatively new phenomenon. The first televised presidential debate took place in 1960 from Chicago and pitted a young John F. Kennedy against an aged Richard Nixon. To those that only listened to the debate on the radio, most felt Nixon won. Those Americans that watched it on television though, saw it very differently. Most saw a rather tan Kennedy beat a pale and disheveled Nixon. The images of that first debate most likely tipped the election in favor of JFK. Nearly six percent of the voters said that the debate decided their vote. Clearly, images make a lasting impression. That is the power of television. There are moments that can make or break a presidential candidate and set them up for victory or defeat in November.
One such moment occurred in 1980, in the one and only televised presidential debate that year, between Ronald Reagan and President Jimmy Carter. Reagan had a classic line of "There you go again", chiding Carter when he lied or exaggerated on an issue in the debate. The most important and lasting moment of that night though, was when Mr. Reagan asked the question of all Americans, "Are you better off than four years ago?". It was simple and yet effective. It drove home the real point of the election that year. Reagan eloquently delivered the knockout line that night and it stuck in the minds of Americans long after the debate ended. That is what a candidate dreams of being able to do on such a big stage.
Four years later, President Reagan again came through with the line of the debate, and effectively turned around a question from the moderator and made everyone laugh, including his opponent, Walter Mondale. The moderator asked Reagan about his age and if it should be an issue in the election. He came back with the reply, "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". It diffused the questioner and demonstrated to the American people that President Reagan still was quick-witted enough to handle the media and that his age was a moot point.
So what can we look forward to hearing Monday night? There is no doubt, this Clinton-Trump debate could be the most watched show ever. The stakes are extremely high for both candidates. The pressure of this debate could cause some memorable moments that may be detrimental to one of them. With the clear health issues of Hillary Clinton, this debate could bring them to the forefront with the possibility of coughing fits or even her passing out. Will Trump push her on those health issues? My guess would be that he will. With many Americans tuning in to this election for the first time, and maybe the only time until election day, it will be imperative that each candidate causes the opponent some awkward, if not costly, moments. Look to see who is well-schooled on the issues. Who looks more presidential in the heat of the debate. Remember from our brief history of televised presidential debates, that images and perceptions are extremely important. This debate will be for all the marbles. Whoever wins Monday night, will build a wave of momentum to the White House. This debate will be the only measuring stick for a vast cross-section of the voting public. With the consistent dumbing down of America, this debate may be the only chance Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump have to reach the real deciding votes left in this campaign. Should Donald Trump ask a question much like Reagan did in 1980, it might be quite effective. Watch for how the moderator asks questions and how they follow up on the responses. Whether or not this debate lives up to the hype, it will be the most important turning point in this presidential election. Be sure to watch closely and keep it in perspective. History tells us that Monday night may bring us some very memorable moments. With as crazy as this campaign season has been thus far, you can bet on it.
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