WHY TRUMP WON THE DEBATE? (Click 2 minute link below.)
1960: The Kennedy – Nixon debate
Okay, the crib notes say Nixon won on the radio and Kennedy won on television. But did you know that Lyndon Johnson, Kennedy’s own running mate, made that observation?
Lesson learned? You gotta look good for television.
Even beyond presidential politics the socio-cultural fallout from this debate continues today. Not just for presidential contenders. For everybody.
Kennedy had a tan, which looked healthy, even though ironically he was sick with Addison’s disease, so a whole generation wore a healthy tan. Not just movie stars but ordinary citizens. It has made skin cancer an epidemic among today’s senior citizens who saw that debate in 1960 and never forgot it.
To this day, every face on television is touched up by a makeup artist and Richard Nixon and John Kennedy are staring back through the mirror saying, “Yes, yes, you know what you’re going to say but just remember this is TV and you gotta look good too.”
1076: The Ford – Carter Debate
So Gerald Ford said that Poland was not in the Soviet sphere of influence. Why? Because he didn’t know what any 10 year old school boy knew? He forgot Yalta? Was this an Aleppo moment?
No, I had the privilege of entertaining Gerald Ford in my home on two occasions and asked him about the big issues of his presidency. This happened because he had met with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in 1974 at Vladivostok and he was wanting to send the signal that we still did not recognize Soviet hegemony over Eastern Europe.
Lesson learned? You’ve got to remember your audience.
In this case, for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the audience is not the Russians, it is not the faithful, it is not Wall Street, it is not big donors, it is not the media, it is the 3 million undecided voters who live in seven toss-up states. That is the audience.
1984: The Reagan – Mondale debate
Reagan had famously fumbled in the previous debate. Everyone was wondering if he was young and fit enough to continue as president. Reagan was asked the age question and he hit the ball out of the park. He knew it was coming. It was a fast ball right down the middle and over the plate.
Lesson learned? The fast balls, the hard questions, are the easiest. You have lived with them for weeks, your subconscious is working on them while you sleep. It is the change up, the easy questions, which will strike you out.
Michael Dukakis learned that in the presidential debates of 1988 when he was asked what he would do if his wife were raped and murdered. He gave an academic answer to a personal question which fell flat.
In 1979, Ted Kennedy finally allowed an interview in anticipation of a presidential run. He selected his close friend Roger Mudd, as the trusted journalist who could do the job.
Mudd asked a simple question, “Why do you want to be president?” Kennedy muffed it.
The easy questions will kill you. That’s why these folk have to practice.
George W. Bush – Al Gore: 2000
Well, there were no rules back then about where you had to stand during the debate so Al Gore walked over toward George W. Bush and invaded his space, even while Bush was talking.
Obviously, Gore’s team had gotten word that George W. was a hot head and invading his space might rattle him and provoke a reaction. Instead, Gore looked like a nerd from science class wanting to start a fight he obviously couldn’t win. George W. just nodded disdainfully and Gore sheepishly wilted away.
Lesson learned? Don’t underestimate your opponent. There is a reason they won the nomination. Expect them to do what you would do and be ready for it.
Let me tell you something interesting, long before he got involved in politics himself, before he owned the Rangers, George W. was in debates. In 1987, Roger Ailes set up practice for Bush, Sr. I was one of the shills. To get us prepared to debate the candidate, we did practice debates for hours and days with George W. Bush. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of political common sense.
Once in 1998 I called then Governor W. Bush on the phone. I said, “Governor, you were lampooned last night on Saturday Night Live and they made you look really, really dumb.”
There was a long pause. Then George W. Bush finally said, “Good.”
Don’t underestimate your opponent.