As Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump prepare to take the podium at the first presidential debate this Monday night, we’ve been thinking about the history of presidential debates over the years, both real-life and fictional.
The first televised general election debate aired September 26th,1960 between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. Thanks to some careful preparation from his team, JFK made a lasting impression on the viewers as poised and calm, while Nixon looked less put-together. According to Theodore White’s “Making of a President,” this visual difference between both candidates had an unexpected electoral effect and had affected the way candidates prepared for debates ever since.
56 years since the first televised debate, this event has also inspired movies and pop culture references, giving them an entirely different and often exaggerated style. However, since Nixon and JFK’s event, the public began to expect the debate between candidates; they have become an American institution. With all of the weight debates now carry, TV and movies got something right: the expectations are high.
So what happens in real life? Obviously, it’s a bit more subdued than what we’ve seen on TV, but there are still plenty of opportunities for drama. Each segment starts with a question from the moderator with the candidates afforded two minutes to answer, before responding to each other. This is followed by what the Commission on Presidential Debates (a bipartisan organization that specializes in these events) describes as “a deeper discussion” of the topic.
While most voters have already decided on whom they will vote for, the debate could affect the way the candidates are perceived, and that can help some undecided people choose. The one thing Hollywood does get right is that the “winner” of the debate isn’t necessarily the best debater. As in the 1960 Nixon/Kennedy debate, the more important question is often “Who acts the most like a leader?”
If you plan to watch this Monday’s debate, here are a few things to look out for:
Pay attention. This is a chance to listen to real proposals straight from the candidates’ mouths.
Expect a lot of fact-checking. Given the nature of this debate, there’s a chance one of the two sides will be debating using fact-checking and arguing against some not-so-truthful facts.
Dominance will happen. Political contests by definition are won, or loss and humiliation is often used as a tactic. Trump did this in the last debate, using derogatory language to describe Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. Very Frank Underwood, in our opinion.
Gender will be discussed. There’s the possibility of the first female President of the United States, need we say more?
Policy vs. Personality. With both candidates being so widely known and their personalities so amply discussed, there’s a chance for actual policies and government styles to be shown.
The debate is due to begin at 9:00 p.m. (ET) and is scheduled to last 90 minutes, with no commercials. Follow us on Twitter @rocketlawyer for updates on the debate. Will you be watching? Let us know in the comments!