You don’t have to be a student of history to know something about the Kennedy-Nixon debates. There is also a good chance that you heard about the “You sir are no JFK” line from the Bentsen v Quayle debate, and the “I won’t hold your youth and inexperience against you” from the Reagan v Mondale debate.
Aside from a memorable line here and there, do debates matter? JFK had an uptick in popularity after the first debate. There is no way to know if it actually was the debate that provided the catalyst. Experts say that the first debate is the most important YET Obama lost the first debate against Romney and won the race.
The fact that we don’t really know the importance of debates has little to do with our fascination. In this COVID world, there may be more interest in the first debate due to Netflix overload. There may be less interest in the debates due to the audience already being cemented in their beliefs.
Whether it is out of political curiosity or a desire to know more about public policy, some amount of people will turn in to the first debate. What can they look for?
- Trump stalked Clinton on the debate stage in the Town Hall debate. Look for what if anything he will do to his male opponent. Will he leave the podium? To what end? Women watched Trump stalk and intimidate his opponent and still voted for him. What nontraditional gesture can Trump carry out?
- Debates are supposed to be about political opinions and public policy proposals. Will this debate be about policy or personality? Does the American public want to hear about policy?
- Trump’s tactics are personal. How personal will Trump get? Will he go after Hunter? Will he bring up Beau to get to Biden? Will Trump go after age and mental fitness? How will Biden react? Michelle Obama said when they go low we go high. Does that work? Will Biden go low?
- Everyone knew Hillary was a policy wonk. That didn’t help against “Build the Wall”. Will Biden use his decades of expertise in a way that attracts voters?
- In 2016 there was not an incumbent in the race. How will Biden hold Trump responsible for his administration? In 2016 both candidates had promises to run on not a record. Will that make a difference? Do Americans care and can they remember all that has happened in these four years? #presidentialdebates