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Laugh (or cringe) at these history-making moments from presidential debates

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Laugh (or cringe) at these history-making moments from presidential debates
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News

Laugh (or cringe) at these history-making moments from presidential debates

2024-06-25 23:24 Last Updated At:23:31

WASHINGTON (AP) — It could be a well-rehearsed zinger or an offhand, too-loud sigh.

Notable moments from past presidential debates demonstrate how the candidates' words and body language can make them look especially relatable or hopelessly out-of-touch. They also can showcase candidates at the top of their policy game or suggest they're out to sea.

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FILE - Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, D-Texas, left, shakes hands with Sen. Dan Quayle, R-Ind., before the start of their vice presidential debate at the Omaha Civic Auditorium, Omaha, Neb., Oct. 5, 1988. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — It could be a well-rehearsed zinger or an offhand, too-loud sigh.

FILE - Jimmy Carter, left, and Gerald Ford, right, shake hands before the third presidential debate, Oct. 22, 1976, in Williamsburg, Va. (AP Photo/File)

FILE - Jimmy Carter, left, and Gerald Ford, right, shake hands before the third presidential debate, Oct. 22, 1976, in Williamsburg, Va. (AP Photo/File)

FILE - Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden checks his watch during the second and final presidential debate Oct. 22, 2020, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., with President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

FILE - Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden checks his watch during the second and final presidential debate Oct. 22, 2020, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., with President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

FILE - President George H.W. Bush looks at his watch during the 1992 presidential campaign debate with other candidates, Independent Ross Perot, top, and Democrat Bill Clinton, not shown, at the University of Richmond, Va., Oct. 15, 1992. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds, File)

FILE - President George H.W. Bush looks at his watch during the 1992 presidential campaign debate with other candidates, Independent Ross Perot, top, and Democrat Bill Clinton, not shown, at the University of Richmond, Va., Oct. 15, 1992. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds, File)

FILE - President Ronald Reagan, left, and his Democratic challenger Walter Mondale, shake hands before debating in Kansas City, Mo., Oct. 22, 1984. AP Photo/Ron Edmonds, File)

FILE - President Ronald Reagan, left, and his Democratic challenger Walter Mondale, shake hands before debating in Kansas City, Mo., Oct. 22, 1984. AP Photo/Ron Edmonds, File)

FILE - President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden participate in the final presidential debate at Belmont University, Oct. 22, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

FILE - President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden participate in the final presidential debate at Belmont University, Oct. 22, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Will past be prologue when President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump debate in Atlanta on Thursday?

“Debates, being live television events, without a script, without any way of knowing how they are going to evolve — anything can happen,” said Alan Schroeder, author of “Presidential Debates: 50 years of High-Risk TV.”

Here's a look at some standout high moments, low moments and curveballs from presidential debates past.

When everyone knows a sensitive question is coming yet you make the answer sound spontaneous, you're having a good debate. Republican President Ronald Reagan landed a line for the ages in the second presidential debate of 1984 after an underwhelming opening matchup.

Reagan was 73 and seeking a second term in his race against Democratic challenger Walter Mondale, then 56. In the first debate, Reagan struggled to remember facts and occasionally looked befuddled.

One of his top advisers, Nevada Sen. Paul Laxalt, suggested afterward that aides “filled his head with so many facts and figures that he lost his spontaneity."

So Reagan's team took a more hands-off approach toward his second faceoff with Mondale. And, when Reagan got a question about his mental and physical stamina that he had to know was coming, he was ready enough to make the response feel unplanned.

“You already are the oldest president in history,” moderator Henry Trewhitt said before asking whether Reagan might not be able to handle a challenge like the Cuban missile crisis.

“Not at all,” Reagan responded in defense of his crisis management smarts. He smoothly continued, “I want you to know that, also, 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.”

Then, capitalizing on years of Hollywood-honed comedic training, the president took a sip of water, giving the audience and even Mondale, who himself cracked up, more time to laugh. Finally, he grinned and left little doubt that he'd rehearsed a response, adding, "It was Seneca, or it was Cicero, I don’t know which, that said, ‘If it was not for the elders correcting the mistakes of the young, there would be no state.’”

Years later, Mondale said that while TV viewers saw him laughing, “I think, if you come in close, you’ll see some tears coming down, because I knew he had gotten me there. That was really the end of my campaign that night."

Reagan thereby proved that even at his age, a candidate could get better over time. And with this year's race pitting 81-year-old Biden against 78-year-old Trump, 73 doesn't seem so old anymore.

Reagan is also remembered for using a light touch to neutralize criticisms from Democratic President Jimmy Carter in a 1980 debate.

When Carter accused him of wanting to cut Medicare, Reagan scolded, “There you go again.” The line worked so well he turned it into something of a trademark rejoinder going forward.

In 1976, Republican President Gerald Ford had a notable moment during his second debate against Carter — and not in a good way. The president declared that there is “no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration.”

With Moscow controlling much of that part of the world, moderator Max Frankel responded, “I'm sorry, wha..?” and asked if he'd understood correctly. Ford stood by his answer, then spent days on the campaign trail trying to explain it away. He lost that November.

“The closer the election, the more zingers and important debate lines can matter,” said Aaron Kall, director of the debate program at the University of Michigan. “Not just on who won, or who lost, but how does it affect fundraising, how does it impact the media cycle in coming days and weeks.”

Not all slips of the lip have a devastating impact.

Then-Sen. Barack Obama, in a 2008 Democratic presidential primary debate, dismissively told Hillary Clinton, “You’re likable enough, Hillary.” That haughty answer drew a backlash but Obama recovered.

The same couldn’t be said for the short-lived 2012 Republican White House bid of then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Despite repeated attempts and excruciatingly long pauses, Perry could not remember the third of the three federal agencies he’d promised to shutter if elected.

Finally, he sheepishly muttered, “Oops.”

The Energy Department is what slipped his mind.

Another damaging moment opened the second presidential debate in 1988, when CNN anchor Bernard Shaw pressed Democrat Michael Dukakis, the governor of Massachusetts, about his opposition to capital punishment with a question that evoked the candidate's wife.

“If Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?” Shaw asked. Dukakis showed little emotion as he responded, “I don’t see any evidence that it’s a deterrent.”

Dukakis later said he wished he'd said that his wife "is the most precious thing, she and my family, that I have in this world."

That year's vice presidential debate featured one of the best-remembered, pre-planned one-liners.

When Dan Quayle, the Republican vice presidential nominee and Indiana senator, compared himself to John F. Kennedy while debating Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, the Democrat was ready. He'd studied Quayle's campaigning and seen him invoke Kennedy in the past.

“Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy,” Bentsen began slowly and deliberately, drawing out the moment. “Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

The audience erupted in applause and laughter. Quayle was left to stare straight ahead.

Quayle and George H.W. Bush still easily won the 1988 election. But they lost in 1992 after then-President Bush was caught on camera looking at his watch while Democrat Bill Clinton talked to an audience member during a town hall debate. Some thought it made Bush look bored and aloof.

In another instance of a nonverbal debate miscue, then-Democratic Vice President Al Gore was criticized for a subpar opening 2000 debate performance with Republican George W. Bush in which he repeatedly and very audibly sighed.

During their second, town hall-style debate, Gore moved so close to Bush while the Republican answered one question that Bush finally looked over and offered a confident nod, drawing laughter from the audience.

A similar moment occurred in 2016, as Hillary Clinton faced the audience to answer questions during her second debate with Trump. The Republican candidate moved in close behind her, narrowed his eyes and glowered.

Clinton offered no visible reaction then, but later wrote of the incident, "He was literally breathing down my neck. My skin crawled.”

Thursday’s faceoff will be the first time a current president debates a former.

Historically, incumbents sometimes struggle during opening debates. They're used to being surrounded by White House advisers who offer little pushback. In 2012, then-President Obama’s seemingly detached first debate performance against Mitt Romney allowed the Republican to gain momentum.

Romney, though, had an awkward moment during the second debate.

Answering a question about gender pay equity, the former Massachusetts governor talked about going to women's groups to get help finding qualified female applicants for top state posts.

"They brought us whole binders full of women,” he declared. Obama turned that into an attack line at subsequent rallies, gleefully saying, “We don't have to collect a bunch of binders to find qualified, talented, driven young women.”

If Biden's debate skills are rusty this time, his opponent's might be as well. Trump skipped all the GOP primary debates this time, meaning he’s not done one since squaring off with Biden twice in 2020.

Trump interrupted so frequently when they first debated four years ago that Biden eventually cried out, “Will you shut up, man?” — a visceral moment if there ever was one. Trump is remembered that night for instructing members of the far-right Proud Boys group from the stage to “stand back and stand by.” Some members of the extremist group took it as a sign of encouragement.

The second Biden-Trump debate of 2020 saw producers cut the mics to discourage interrupting, making it less chaotic. It featured Biden wistfully declaring, “I am anxious to have this race. I’m anxious to see this take place.”

It did. And now it's happening again.

Follow the AP's coverage of the 2024 election at https://apnews.com/hub/election-2024.

FILE - Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, D-Texas, left, shakes hands with Sen. Dan Quayle, R-Ind., before the start of their vice presidential debate at the Omaha Civic Auditorium, Omaha, Neb., Oct. 5, 1988. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds, File)

FILE - Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, D-Texas, left, shakes hands with Sen. Dan Quayle, R-Ind., before the start of their vice presidential debate at the Omaha Civic Auditorium, Omaha, Neb., Oct. 5, 1988. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds, File)

FILE - Jimmy Carter, left, and Gerald Ford, right, shake hands before the third presidential debate, Oct. 22, 1976, in Williamsburg, Va. (AP Photo/File)

FILE - Jimmy Carter, left, and Gerald Ford, right, shake hands before the third presidential debate, Oct. 22, 1976, in Williamsburg, Va. (AP Photo/File)

FILE - Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden checks his watch during the second and final presidential debate Oct. 22, 2020, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., with President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

FILE - Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden checks his watch during the second and final presidential debate Oct. 22, 2020, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., with President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

FILE - President George H.W. Bush looks at his watch during the 1992 presidential campaign debate with other candidates, Independent Ross Perot, top, and Democrat Bill Clinton, not shown, at the University of Richmond, Va., Oct. 15, 1992. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds, File)

FILE - President George H.W. Bush looks at his watch during the 1992 presidential campaign debate with other candidates, Independent Ross Perot, top, and Democrat Bill Clinton, not shown, at the University of Richmond, Va., Oct. 15, 1992. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds, File)

FILE - President Ronald Reagan, left, and his Democratic challenger Walter Mondale, shake hands before debating in Kansas City, Mo., Oct. 22, 1984. AP Photo/Ron Edmonds, File)

FILE - President Ronald Reagan, left, and his Democratic challenger Walter Mondale, shake hands before debating in Kansas City, Mo., Oct. 22, 1984. AP Photo/Ron Edmonds, File)

FILE - President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden participate in the final presidential debate at Belmont University, Oct. 22, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

FILE - President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden participate in the final presidential debate at Belmont University, Oct. 22, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Nick Gonzales hit the winning RBI single in the ninth inning and the Pittsburgh Pirates rallied from a three-run deficit for an 8-7 win over the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday night.

With the Pirates trailing 7-6, Connor Joe led off the ninth with a single before José Alvarado (1-4) walked Andrew McCutchen. Michael A. Taylor, running for Joe, and McCutchen executed a double steal. Oneil Cruz brought in the tying run on a one-out fielder’s choice.

Gonzales then sent a first-pitch cutter through the left side of the infield to win it.

Carmen Mlodzinski (2-3) allowed two singles in the ninth before retiring three in a row.

Weston Wilson, who had a career-best three hits, put the Phillies ahead 4-3 in the third inning with a home run to left, his first this season and second in the majors. He capped a three-run first inning with his first of two singles, grounding it off the chest of third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes to follow a two-run double from Nick Castellanos.

Cruz drove in the first of Pittsburgh’s three runs off Aaron Nola in the first, hitting a double with an exit velocity of 120.5 mph to center. He led off the third with another double before scoring on a sacrifice fly to tie it 4-all.

Nola was tagged for four runs and six hits with four strikeouts in five innings.

Trea Turner put the Phillies up for a third time with a two-run homer in the fourth inning. Edmundo Sosa scored on Kyle Schwarber’s sacrifice fly to make it 7-4 in the fifth.

Pérez lasted 3 2/3 innings, allowing six runs on seven hits and two walks.

Cruz hit an RBI infield single in front of Rowdy Tellez’s third sacrifice fly of the night that cut the deficit to 7-6 in the seventh.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Phillies: LHP Ranger Suárez threw Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, going out to 120 feet and throwing a flat-ground session before the game. He missed the All-Star Game with low back spasms. ... RHP Zack Wheeler (back tightness) also threw 120 feet on Friday but did not have a flat-ground session.

Pirates: LHP Bailey Falter threw a live bullpen on Thursday. He was placed on the 15-day injured list with left triceps tendinitis on July 7.

UP NEXT

RHP Luis Ortiz (4-2, 2.84 ERA) will take the mound for the Pirates on Saturday, opposite Phillies LHP Cristopher Sánchez (7-4, 2.96).

AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb

Pittsburgh Pirates' Nick Gonzales hits a walkoff single off Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher José Alvarado during the ninth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Justin Berl)

Pittsburgh Pirates' Nick Gonzales hits a walkoff single off Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher José Alvarado during the ninth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Justin Berl)

Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper celebrates with teammates in the dugout after coming around to score in the first inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Justin Berl)

Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper celebrates with teammates in the dugout after coming around to score in the first inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Justin Berl)

Philadelphia Phillies' Nick Castellanos celebrates after hitting a two-run RBI double in the first inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Justin Berl)

Philadelphia Phillies' Nick Castellanos celebrates after hitting a two-run RBI double in the first inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Justin Berl)

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola delivers in the first inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Justin Berl)

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola delivers in the first inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Justin Berl)

Philadelphia Phillies' Weston Wilson celebrates with teammates in the dugout after hitting a solo home run in the third inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Justin Berl)

Philadelphia Phillies' Weston Wilson celebrates with teammates in the dugout after hitting a solo home run in the third inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Justin Berl)

Philadelphia Phillies' Trea Turner (7) reacts as he rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home run off of Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Martin Perez in the fourth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Justin Berl)

Philadelphia Phillies' Trea Turner (7) reacts as he rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home run off of Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Martin Perez in the fourth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Justin Berl)

Pittsburgh Pirates' Oneil Cruz hits an RBI double in the first inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies in Pittsburgh, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Justin Berl)

Pittsburgh Pirates' Oneil Cruz hits an RBI double in the first inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies in Pittsburgh, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Justin Berl)

Pittsburgh Pirates' Andrew McCutchen slides in safely to third base in the first inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies in Pittsburgh, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Justin Berl)

Pittsburgh Pirates' Andrew McCutchen slides in safely to third base in the first inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies in Pittsburgh, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Justin Berl)

Philadelphia Phillies' Garrett Stubbs reacts after being hit by a pitch in the first inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Justin Berl)

Philadelphia Phillies' Garrett Stubbs reacts after being hit by a pitch in the first inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Justin Berl)

Pittsburgh Pirates' Nick Gonzales, center, is is congratulated by teammates after hitting a walkoff single off Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher José Alvarado during the ninth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Justin Berl)

Pittsburgh Pirates' Nick Gonzales, center, is is congratulated by teammates after hitting a walkoff single off Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher José Alvarado during the ninth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Justin Berl)

Pittsburgh Pirates' Nick Gonzales, center, is mobbed by teammates after hitting a walkoff single off Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher José Alvarado during the ninth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Justin Berl)

Pittsburgh Pirates' Nick Gonzales, center, is mobbed by teammates after hitting a walkoff single off Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher José Alvarado during the ninth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Justin Berl)

Pittsburgh Pirates' Nick Gonzales, right, reacts after hitting a walkoff single off of Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher José Alvarado during the ninth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Justin Berl)

Pittsburgh Pirates' Nick Gonzales, right, reacts after hitting a walkoff single off of Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher José Alvarado during the ninth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Justin Berl)

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