US presidential debate
Signs advertising the presidential debate hosted by CNN are seen outside their studios on June 25, 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia. US President Joe Biden and Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump will face off in the first presidential debate of the 2024 presidential cycle on Friday, 5am (UAE time). Image Credit: AFP

New York: From Gerald Ford’s catastrophic Soviet gaffe to Ronald Reagan’s witty remark about his age and Joe Biden asking Donald Trump to “shut up,” US presidential debates have been funny, vicious and everything in between.

Here are some of the most memorable moments from more than 60 years of modern American debates.

Nixon kennedy
Presidential candidates Vice President Richard Nixon (L) and Senator John Kennedy (R) face off in the final televised debate on September 26, 1960 in a Chicago television studio. Image Credit: AFP

Kennedy-Nixon, September 26, 1960

It was the first televised debate of its kind, when everything was still broadcast in black-and-white, and it established the importance of a politician’s public image. Republican Richard Nixon looked poised to win the election, having served two terms as vice-president under Dwight Eisenhower.

But the debate did not go well for him. Nixon refused to wear makeup and appeared pale and sweaty in front of more than 66 million viewers, while the young Massachusetts senator John F. Kennedy looked tanned and relaxed. While Nixon addressed the moderator, Kennedy looked at the camera, speaking directly to his voters.

How much the debate visuals pushed the needle is disputed, but Kennedy went on to defeat Nixon at the polls.

Ford-Carter, October 6, 1976

The first debate between Republican president Gerald Ford and Democratic challenger Jimmy Carter was marked by a 27-minute loss of audio. The second debate didn’t go well for Ford either, when he made a gaffe that arguably cost him the presidency.

At the height of the Cold War, Ford uttered that “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration,” even though the Soviet Union had troops deployed across the Eastern bloc.

Six days passed before Ford explained himself, saying that he spoke not of the literal military presence but meant that people’s spirits there hadn’t been crushed.

Reagan-Mondale, October 21, 1984

Republican president Ronald Reagan was 73 when he ran for a second term against 56-year-old Walter Mondale. But he managed to turn his age into his strength with a witty answer that went down in history.

“I will not make age an issue of this campaign,” Reagan said when asked whether he was fit for office. “I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

Perot Clinton Bush
Presidential candidates Ross Perot (L) Bill Clinton (C) and George Bush (R) answer questions 11 October, 1992 at the athletic centre at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Image Credit: AFP

Bush-Clinton-Perot, October 15, 1992

The second presidential debate in the 1992 race pitted incumbent president George Bush against both his future successor Bill Clinton and Ross Perot, an independent candidate.

Bush was caught on camera looking at his watch while Clinton talked to an audience member during a town hall debate, a move that cost Bush dearly.

Years later, Bush admitted he hated the debates. “Maybe that’s why I was looking at it, ‘only 10 more minutes of this crap.’”

Obama Romney
US President Barack Obama (R) debates with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on October 22, 2012 at the start of the third presidential debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. Image Credit: AFP

Obama-Romney, October 22, 2012

During a debate against president Barack Obama, Republican challenger Mitt Romney lamented that the US Navy had fewer ships presently than it did in 1916.

“Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed,” Obama retorted.

“We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go under water, nuclear submarines.”

Obama’s comments went viral online.

Trump Clinton Hillary
US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands after the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, on October 9, 2016. Image Credit: AFP

Trump-Clinton, October 9, 2016

The second debate of the 2016 US presidential election pitting Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was particularly vicious.

Coming shortly after the release of a video in which Trump was heard boasting that his fame allowed him to grope women, the Republican billionaire went after his opponent’s husband, former president Bill Clinton, accusing him of being “so abusive to women.”

Trump also vowed to have Hillary Clinton investigated over her use of a private email account when she was secretary of state.

“It’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country,” Clinton said.

Trump shot back: “Because you’d be in jail.”

Biden Trump
In this file picture, US President Donald Trump (L) and Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden exchange arguments during the first presidential debate at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, on September 29, 2020. Image Credit: AFP

Trump-Biden, September 29, 2020

The first debate of the 2020 presidential election, featuring Trump and Democrat Joe Biden, devolved into shouting and insults.

With Trump constantly interrupting him, Biden snapped, saying, “Will you shut up, man?”

The Democrat also called his opponent a “clown” and “Putin’s puppy.”

Trump for his part kept evading the question of whether he would recognise the results of the election.

Powerless to control the two candidates, the debate moderator, Fox News journalist Chris Wallace, later described feeling “desperation.”