October Surprises: Garfield vs. Hancock (1880)

No doubt you all remember the 1880 election. It came four years after the closest election in presidential history when Rutherford Hayes was elected president after he was awarded the disputed electoral votes of three states just days before he was inaugurated. Many believe that a deal was made in which Hayes was declared president in return for a pledge to pull federal troops out of southern states where they were protecting the rights of the freed former slaves. Whatever deal was or wasn't made, Democrats entered the 1880 campaign pledging to get even for the "stolen election" of 1876.

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Both of the major political parties nominated former Civil War Union Generals as their candidate. For the Democrats it was Winfield Scott Hancock of Pennsylvania, while the Republicans nominated Congressman James Garfield of Ohio. Garfield won the nomination as a compromise candidate on the 35th ballot. He had come to the convention to nominate fellow Ohioan James Sherman (the brother of General William Tecumseh Sherman), but when a convention fight resulted in a deadlock between those wanting to nominate Ulysses Grant to a non-consecutive third term (the "Stalwarts") and those wanting to nominate Maine Senator James G. Blaine (the "Half-breeds"), the delegates compromised on Garfield.

The Democrats expected to carry the south, while much of the north was considered safe territory for the Republicans. The campaign was focused on a handful of swing states that included New York. The Republicans began the campaign with their familiar theme of "waving the bloody shirt" (i.e. reminding northern voters that the Democratic Party was responsible for secession and four years of civil war). They spread the message that the nation elected a Democrat, it would reverse the gains of that war, dishonor Union veterans, and pay Confederate soldiers' pensions out of the federal treasury. But fifteen years had passed since the end of the war, and this argument became less effective as time passed. Besides, both parties had Union generals as their candidates, so this was less of an issue for voters.

The Democrats attacked Garfield personally, alleging that he was connected with the Crédit Mobilier of America scandal of the early 1870s, in which many members of Congress were bribed by the Crédit Mobilier corporation, a railroad construction company. Garfield's precise involvement is unknown, but most of his modern biographers agree that his dealings were probably somewhat less than honest. The Republican Party was reluctant to criticize Hancock, who was hailed a hero at the Battle of Gettysburg, but they did portray him as uninformed on the issues.

Republicans emphasized the parties' policy difference on the issue of tariffs. Garfield's campaign was able to portray the Democrats as unsympathetic to the plight of industrial laborers, a group that benefited from a high protective tariff. This issue cut Democratic support in industrialized Northern states. Hancock made the situation worse when he said that "the tariff question is a local question". Republicans used this gaffe to suggest to voters that Hancock did not understand the issue.

It looked as if Garfield would win the election handily. But on October 20, Garfield received an "October surprise" when a Democratic newspaper published a letter, purportedly from Garfield to a group of businessmen, pledging to keep immigration at the current levels so that industry could keep workers' wages low. One hundred thousand copies of the newspaper were mailed to California and Oregon. The letter, addressed to an H.L. Morey of Lynn, Massachusetts, voiced support for Chinese immigration to the U.S., and expressed the opinion that employers had the right “to buy labor where they can get it the cheapest.” The letter was published at a time of widespread xenophobia among white Americans. It contradicted the Republican platform, which endorsed restrictions on Chinese immigration. It made Garfield look like a hypocrite and jeopardized his support in western states whose white citizens were particularly fearful they would lose their jobs to Chinese immigrants.

The letter was a forgery. Democratic operatives distributed over a half-million copies of the letter across the country. Unfortunately, Garfield was slow to defend himself. It took some time for penmanship expert to study the letter to determine that it was a forgery and for reporters to travel to Massachusetts to track down the addressee, an unknown H.L. Morey of Lynn. Reporters never found Mr. Morey, and after examining the letter himself, Garfield publicly announced that it was a fake.


But delay in Garfield's denial hurt him politically. What was supposed to be a clear Republic victory became a close race. Garfield beat his opponent by only .02 percentage points in the popular vote, and he lost California, the state most affected by Chinese immigration. After the election, the letter's author was revealed to be Kenward Phillip, a New York Truth journalist who was later arrested and indicted for fraud.

Remembering Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover died on October 20, 1964 (56 years ago today.) His presidency seems like an unfortunate valley in a life otherwise filled mostly with peaks. Histories of the era before Hoover's presidency describe him as a whiz kid, a man with the Midas touch, the energetic genius who could tackle and fix any problem. The post-presidential Hoover is remembered as a great humanitarian and an elder statesman. But the Hoover presidency is remembered, rightly or wrongly, for the Great Depression and for Hoover's laissez faire approach to the suffering which it caused his countrymen.


Herbert Clark Hoover was born in West Branch, Iowa on August 10, 1874, the son of a Quaker blacksmith. His parents died during his childhood, leaving the future president orphaned at age 9. In 1885 he moved to Oregon where he was raised by his uncle John Minthorn, a physician. Hoover enrolled at Stanford University when it opened in 1891, and graduated as a mining engineer in 1895.

In 1899 Hoover married his Stanford sweetheart, the former Lou Henry, and the couple went to China, where he worked for a private corporation as China's leading engineer. In June 1900 the Boxer Rebellion left the Hoovers to be trapped in Tientsin. For almost a month the settlement was under heavy fire. While his wife worked in the hospitals, Hoover directed the building of barricades, and even risked his life to rescue Chinese children. Hoover served as a guide to US Marines who came to the rescue of the Americans there.

During the First World War, Hoover was asked to help in getting stranded American tourists home from Europe. His committee helped 120,000 Americans return to the United States. Acquiring a reputation as a "can do" man, Hoover was tasked with the difficult job of feeding Belgian refugees after Belgium was invaded by the German army. After the United States entered the war, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Hoover head of the Food Administration, where he succeeded in cutting consumption of food at home that was badly needed overseas. After the Armistice, Hoover organized shipments of food for starving millions in central Europe. He extended aid to famine-stricken Soviet Russia in 1921. When a critic inquired if he was not thus helping Bolshevism, Hoover was quoted as responding "Twenty million people are starving. Whatever their politics, they shall be fed!"

Hoover served as Secretary of Commerce under Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. Without ever holding elected office, Hoover was chosen as the Republican Presidential nominee in 1928. As his running mate, he chose Senator Charles Curtis of Kansas, a man with three-quarter Native American ancestry. In that campaign, Hoover claimed "we in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land." But unfortunately he would be proven wrong in this prediction. His election seemed to ensure prosperity, but less than a year after his election, the stock market crashed, and the nation spiraled downward into depression.

After the crash Hoover's plan was to keep the Federal budget balanced, but to cut taxes and expand public works spending. Contrary to the false perception that Hoover did nothing about the depression, he presented Congress with a program asking for creation of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to aid business, additional help for farmers facing mortgage foreclosures, banking reform, a loan to states for feeding the unemployed, expansion of public works, and drastic governmental economy. But he also maintained that caring for the suffering must be primarily a local and voluntary responsibility.

Like many presidents, Hoover had opponents in Congress, and he felt that they were sabotaging his program for their own political gain. Democrats and the media painted Hoover as a callous and cruel President. He was made to be the scapegoat for the Depression, with his name becoming an adjective for all manner of symbols of the depression. Shanties for the homeless were called Hoover Huts and collections of them were called Hoovervilles. When first world war vets protested for early payment of their war bonuses, General Douglas MacArthur fired on the protesters. Hoover was also blamed for this. He was badly defeated in the 1932 Presidential Election.

In the 1930's Hoover became a powerful critic of the New Deal, warning against tendencies toward public dependence on the state. He had a bitter relationship with his successor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He refused to speak to FDR on the ride the two men took to FDR's inauguration. But he got along famously with the next President, Harry Truman. In 1947 President Truman appointed Hoover to a commission to reorganize the Executive Departments. Hoover once again was called on to aid the starving in Europe following the Second World War. On Hoover's initiative, a school meals program in the American and British occupation zones of Germany was begun on April 14, 1947. The program served 3,500,000 children aged 6 through 18. A total of 40,000 tons of American food was provided during the Hooverspeisung (Hoover meals).


In 1960, Hoover appeared at his final Republican National Convention. Joking to the delegates, he said, "Apparently, my last three good-byes didn't take." Although he lived to see the 1964 convention, ill health prevented him from attending. In 1962, Hoover had a malignant intestinal tumor removed. Ten months later he had severe gastrointestinal bleeding and seemed terminally ill and frail, but his mind was clear and he maintained a great deal of correspondence. Although the illness would get worse over time, he refused to be hospitalized.

Hoover died following massive internal bleeding at the age of 90 in his New York City suite at 11:35 a.m. on October 20, 1964, 31 years, seven months, and sixteen days after leaving office. At the time of his death, he had the longest retirement of any President. Former President Jimmy Carter surpassed the length of Hoover's retirement on September 7, 2012. At the time of Hoover's death he was the second longest-lived president after John Adams.


There has been a recent resurgence of interest in the life of Herbert Hoover. In 2009 PBS produced an excellent documentary about Hoover entitled Landslide: A Portrait of President Herbert Hoover. He is also featured prominently in David Pietrusza's 2015 book 1932:The Rise of Hitler and FDR, reviewed here. Hoover is also the subject of two other recent biographies. The first, entitled Herbert Hoover in the White House: The Ordeal of the Presidency by Charles Rappleye, was reviewed here in this community. The second, by Glen Jeansonne, is entitled Herbert Hoover: A Life. It came out on October 4, 2016. In 2017 yet another Hoover biography was released, written by Kenneth Whyte, entitled Herbert Hoover: An Extraordinary Life in Extraordinary Times.

October Surprises: 1968-Nixon vs. Humphrey

As October of 1968 approached, it appeared that Hubert Humphrey was too far behind to catch Richard Nixon. Humphrey had once been a popular figure among the left in his party, especially known as a champion of civil rights, stemming from a very famous speech he had given at the 1948 Democratic Party Convention when he was the Mayor of Minneapolis. But twenty years later, he was carrying an unpopular war on his shoulders, having won his party's nomination by running as the establishment candidate. Humphrey had either been too timid or too loyal to challenge President Lyndon Johnson when it came to the Vietnam War. When Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in June of 1968, Humphrey's victory at his party's convention was all but certain. (Today, it is a subject of debate among historians as to whether or not Kennedy would have defeated Humphrey at the convention had he lived, with reputable historians disagreeing on this point.)

Violence in the streets of Chicago at the 1968 Democratic Convention further crippled Humphrey's campaign, as Chicago police dealt with anti-war protesters (and in some cases with members of the media) in a very brutal fashion, with pictures of the violence broadcast through homes across America on television. Humphrey was never critical of the violence and for the early part of the campaign he had difficulty attracting the support of the party's left, a segment which in other times would have flocked to him.

Meanwhile, at a much more peaceful convention, the Republican Party nominated Richard Nixon, dubbed by one author as "the man nobody liked, but everyone could live with". Nixon immediately went after southern voters who were rejecting their party following Johnson's civil rights bills. These efforts were hampered somewhat because former Alabama Governor George Wallace was running as a viable third party candidate who gave those voters somewhere to park their votes.

After the Democratic Convention in late August, Humphrey trailed Nixon by double digits in most polls. His chances seemed hopeless. It looked as if the Democratic Party coalition forged by Franklin Delano Roosevelt was falling apart. Blue-collar workers appeared to be drawn to Wallace. African-Americans felt betrayed, as their segment of the population accounted for a disproportionate number of those being drafter and those dying in Vietnam Liberals were also disaffected over the Vietnam War and ashamed of how their party had treated protestors at the convention. The South had been lost following the civil rights legislation. For a time, Humphrey was mocked for campaigning on "the politics of joy." But Humphrey was known as "the Happy Warrior" and he did not give up without a fight.

In order to distance himself from Johnson, Humphrey stopped being identified in ads as "Vice-President Hubert Humphrey," instead being labelled "Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey." He attacked Wallace as a racist bigot who appealed to the darker impulses of Americans. Wallace had been rising in the polls, and peaked at 21% in September, but his momentum ended after he selected hawkish General Curtis LeMay as his running mate. When LeMay suggested that tactical nuclear weapons could be used in Vietnam, this scared voters away from the Wallace campaign and back to Humphrey. Polls had shown Wallace winning almost one-half of union members in the summer of 1968, but he suffered a sharp decline in his union support as the campaign progressed. As Wallace's support in the North and Midwest began to wane, Humphrey finally began to climb in the polls.

In October of 1968, Humphrey was rising sharply in the polls due to the collapse of the Wallace vote. He made a decision to distance himself publicly from the Johnson administration on the Vietnam War, calling for a bombing halt. Although this upset Johnson, a key turning point for Humphrey's campaign came when Johnson officially announced a bombing halt, and even a possible peace deal, the weekend before the election. Humphrey received an October surprise in the form of what became known as the "Halloween Peace". It gave his campaign a badly needed boost. Senator Eugene McCarthy, a leader in the peace movement, finally endorsed Humphrey in late October after previously refusing to do so, and by election day the polls had Nixon and Humphrey running even.

The ever politically savvy Nixon anticipated the possible announcement of a last-minute deal to end U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war by Johnson, and he knew that this would benefit Humphrey. Johnson's announcement of an enhanced bombing halt and more intensive talks in which the Viet Cong was a setback for Nixon's campaign. After Johnson announced a halt of the bombing of North Vietnam on October 30, 1968, Humphrey surged ahead of Nixon in some polls.

Bryce Harlow was a former Eisenhower White House staff member and a Nixon supporter. He and Henry Kissinger, who was friendly with both campaigns, fed news to the Nixon campaign of Johnson's effort to help Humphrey with the announcement. Nixon asked Anna Chennault, the wife of a former World War 2 general and a prominent leader in the Asian-American Republican community, to be his channel to South Vietnamese leaders. She agreed and reported to Nixon's campaign manager and law partner (and future Attorney General) John Mitchell.

On November 2, Chennault informed the South Vietnamese ambassador Bui Diem, "I have just heard from my boss in Albuquerque who says his boss [Nixon] is going to win. And you tell your boss [South Vietnamese President Thieu] to hold on a while longer." It was later learned that Lyndon Johnson ordered the wire-tapping members of the Nixon campaign. South Vietnamese refusal to participate in the talks made any chance of a peace accord unlikely, taking much of the wind out of the sails of some of the momentum that the Humphrey Campaign received from the news of the talks.

Historians such as Robert Dallek have written that Nixon's efforts had little effect on things because President Thieu was unwilling to attend the talks in any event and there was little chance of an agreement being reached before the election. What was surprising however was Humphrey's decision not to break the news of Nixon's interference in the talks. Dallek has called Humphrey's decision not to make Nixon's actions public was "an uncommon act of political decency". Historian Jules Witcover characterizes it somewhat differently. He argues that Humphrey thought he was going to win the election, so he did not reveal the information to the public. Humphrey later regretted this as a mistake. He wrote in his memoirs: "I wonder if I should have blown the whistle on Anna Chennault and Nixon. I wish I could have been sure. Damn Thieu. Dragging his feet this past weekend hurt us. I wonder if that call did it. If Nixon knew."


This October surprise was not enough for Humphrey to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The election took place on November 5, 1968, and as predicted, it was extremely close, and it was not until the following morning that the television news networks were able to call Nixon the winner. Nixon won California, Ohio, and Illinois, all by three percentage points or less. Nixon won the popular vote with a plurality of 512,000 votes, or by a margin of 43.4% to 42.7% (with 13.5% voting for Wallace). In the electoral college Nixon carried 32 states with 301 electoral votes, to Humphrey's 13 states and 191 electoral votes and Wallace's five states and 46 electoral votes.

Happy Big Block of Cheese Day!

It's "Big Block of Cheese Day" today!

Fans of the television show The West Wing will know that today, October 20th, is "Big Block of Cheese Day", a fictional workday on which White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry encouraged his staff to meet with fringe special interest groups that normally would not get attention from the White House. Big Block of Cheese Day first appears in an episode called "The Crackpots and these Women" and also is mentioned in the subsequent eposode "Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to Jail."

The rationale for the day, as recounted by McGarry is that America's seventh president, Andrew Jackson, had a two-ton block of cheese in the White House foyer from which everyone was welcome to eat.

History records that the first "big block of cheese" was actually presented to Thomas Jefferson. The Cheshire Mammoth Cheese was a gift to Jefferson from the town of Cheshire, Massachusetts. It was presented to Jefferson on January 1, 1802 by John Leland. Leland said that he considered the cheese an act of "profound the popular ratification of his election." This incident is reported in the book Real Life at the White House by John Whitcomb.

In 1837, President Andrew Jackson's supporters commissioned a similar cheese for him. Jackson's "big block of cheese" weighed 1400 pounds. After two years of aging the cheese, Jackson held a public "cheese tasting". The event was heavily attended, and the cheese was consumed in two hours.


Besides inspiring this recurring theme for the West Wing, this event also inspired a couple of literary works including The Mammoth Cheese by Sheri Holman, written in 2004 and published by the Grove Press. It tells the story about a small town cheesemaker convinced by her pastor to make a giant cheese for the President-elect. The cheese also became the subject of a children's picture book published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, called A Big Cheese for the White House by Candace Fleming.

For real fanatics, shirts and other gear commemorating Big Block of Cheese Day is available here from Cafe Press. I plan to wear my Big Block of Cheese Day polo today. And for West Wing fans who want another fix of Leo's Big Block of Cheese Day speech, here it is:


Presidential Election Debates: Jim Lehrer

It seems fitting to conclude a series on Presidential Election Debates by remembering the late Jim Lehrer, the executive editor and news anchor for the PBS NewsHour, and the man who served as debate moderator for twelve presidential debates between 1988 and 2012. He also authored numerous fiction and non-fiction books, and generally came across as a very nice man.


James Charles Lehrer was born on May 19, 1934, in Wichita, Kansas. His mother, the former Lois Catherine Chapman, was a teacher, and his father, Harry Frederick Lehrer, was a bus station manager. His paternal grandparents were German immigrants and his maternal grandfather was J. B. Chapman, a prominent clergyman in the Church of the Nazarene figure. Lehrer attended middle school in Beaumont, Texas, and graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio, where he was a sports editor. He graduated with an associate degree from Victoria College, and a bachelor's degree in journalism from the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri in 1956. After graduating from college Lehrer joined the United States Marine Corps and served for three years as an infantry officer. He would later say that his service and travels caused him to look beyond himself and feel a connection to the world that he would not have otherwise experienced.

In 1959, Lehrer began his career in journalism at The Dallas Morning News in Texas. Later, he worked as a reporter for the Dallas Times Herald, where he covered the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. He was a political columnist for that newspaper for several years, and in 1968 he became the city editor. Lehrer switched from print media to television career by working at KERA-TV in Dallas, Texas. He was the executive director of Public Affairs, an on-air host, and editor of a nightly news program.

In 1972, Lehrer moved to PBS in Washington, D.C., where he became the Public Affairs Coordinator, as well as a member of the Journalism Advisory Board. He was also a Fellow at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). He worked as a correspondent for the National Public Affairs Center for Television (NPACT), where he met fellow newsman Robert MacNeil, who he would later partner with on PBS as co-anchors. In 1973, they covered the Senate Watergate hearings and the revelation of the Watergate Tapes broadcast, live on PBS. This coverage of the hearings led to what would eventually become The MacNeil/Lehrer Report. Lehrer covered the House Judiciary Committee's impeachment inquiry of President Richard Nixon.

In October 1975, Lehrer became the Washington correspondent for The Robert MacNeil Report on Thirteen/WNET New York. Two months later on December 1, 1975, he was promoted to co-anchor, and the program was renamed The MacNeil/Lehrer Report. In September 1983, Lehrer and MacNeil relaunched their show as The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. It was renamed The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, following MacNeil's departure in 1995. The program was renamed the PBS NewsHour in 2009.

A true professional, in order to maintain objectivity, Lehrer chose not to vote in elections.

Lehrer underwent heart valve surgery on April 17, 2008. He returned to the show on June 26, 2008. He stepped down as anchor of the PBS NewsHour on June 6, 2011, but continued to moderate the Friday news analysis segments and remained involved with the show's production company, MacNeil/Lehrer Productions.

Lehrer received several awards and honors during his career in journalism, including several Emmys, the George Foster Peabody Broadcast Award, a William Allen White Foundation Award for Journalistic Merit and the University of Missouri School of Journalism's Medal of Honor. In 2004, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Journalism degree by McDaniel College.

Lehrer was involved in several projects related to U.S. presidential debates, including the Debating Our Destiny documentaries in 2000 and 2008. These featured excerpts of exclusive interviews with many of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates since 1976. CNN news anchor Bernard Shaw nicknamed Lehrer "The Dean of Moderators" because Lehrer moderated twelve presidential debates between 1988 and 2012. In 2016, Lehrer served on the board of the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD).

The last debate that Lehrer moderated was the first general election debate of the 2012 election. He originally had said that he would not moderate any more debates after 2008, but he was hard to replace. The CPD persisted in their requests for him to moderate in 2012 and he relented because he was interested in the new format. The debate was held at the University of Denver and covered domestic policy issues. Some were critical of Lehrer's performance as a moderator, because he frequently allowed the candidates to exceed the given time limits. But many others believed he did the right thing in letting the candidates have some control in the debate on their own terms. Lerher insisted that the debates were not about him but were about the candidates. In 2011 he wrote a book about his experiences as a debate moderator entitled Tension City: Inside the Presidential Debates. It is well worth the read.

Lehrer was married to Kate Lehrer, also a novelist. They had three daughters and six grandchildren. Lehrer was an avid bus enthusiast, a hobbyist, and a collector of bus memorabilia, including depot signs, driver caps, and antique toy buses. He also was a supporter of the Pacific Bus Museum in Williams, California, and the Museum of Bus Transportation in Hershey, Pennsylvania. He was a prolific writer and authored numerous novels, as well as several plays, screenplays, and three personal memoirs. His book, Top Down, is a novel based on the events surrounding the Kennedy assassination. His last play, Bell, was produced by the National Geographic Society as part of their 125th anniversary celebration. Personally I enjoyed his "One-eyed Mack" series on novels about a fictional Lieutenant Governor of Oklahoma who is on the short list to become Vice-President. His novel Viva Max was made into a movie starring Peter Ustinov, and his novel The Last Debate was made into a TV movie which starred James Garner as a Lehrer-like moderator.

Lehrer died at his home in Washington, D.C., on January 23, 2020, at age 85 from a heart attack.

Presidential Election Debates: Do They Matter?

In the 19th century, it is reported that political speeches would last for hours, often outdoors on hot days, with audiences standing and straining to hear the speaker in a time before audio amplification. This was also a time before radio, television, professional sports, or the internet and so there were far more limited options for entertainment of the masses back then. Often it wasn't the candidates themselves who would speak, but rather a surrogate, someone who was seen as a spirited orator. There were no such thing as debates between candidates for President, even though there is a misconception that Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debated one another when running for president. In fact their debates took place two years earlier, when the two debated ahead of state elections that would elect a legislature, which would in turn name one of them as the US Senator from that state. But the debates were useful in that they elevated the profiles of both men. Without these debates and the widespread reports of them, Abraham Lincoln might never have been considered a viable candidate for his party's nomination for President, and history would have unfolded much differently.

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Presidential election debates didn't really begin until the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960. The new media of television added an extra dimension to debating. It wasn't just what the candidates said, but how they looked, or at least that's what many people believe. Historians are not in universal agreement over whether the debates, or whether other reasons turned the tide in that election, reasons such as the desire to change parties, the appeal of a good-looking young candidate, or possibly even election fraud.

It would be another sixteen years before candidates for the Republican and Democratic Party would square off on the debate stage, as Gerald Ford struggled to hold on to a presidency that he had not been elected to, and strained to recover from his unpopular decision to pardon a much loathed president at a time when the public had lost their trust in the institution of the presidency. His opponent would use the debates to elevate his profile and to sell his message of being a Washington outsider at a time when change was badly needed.

Since then, debates have been used by campaigns to try to highlight their biggest selling point and also to spotlight their opponent's biggest weakness: age, inexperience, moral failings, spendaholic tendencies, or ties to special interest groups. Today, unlike in the 19th century, we live in an age of distraction, a time when there are better things to do than sit and listen to two politicians argue for two hours. We are now in the sound-byte age, the age of Twitter. We require our news in small bites, to match our attention spans. Modern debates have become all about the sound-byte answer, the "gotcha" question, the witty putdown. Perhaps most frustrating to serious voters is that candidates obfuscate and dodge questions. For example, in the current election, President Trump never answered questions about who he is personally indebted to for millions of dollars. Vice-President Biden has never said whether or not he will press for legislation increasing the number of seats on the US Supreme Court. Neither Vice-Presidential candidate answered a question about what discussions they had with their running mate over that candidate's age issues.

Most problematic is that the negative and polarizing rhetoric present in social media has carried forward on to the debate stage. If Kennedy and Nixon had rudely interrupted one another, if they had disrespected the moderator or had told one another "would you shut up man", audiences would have rightly concluded that neither deserved the honor of serving as their nation's chief executive. Today however, in world where reasoned response is set aside in favor of memes, falsehoods and profanity, many people tend to react to the kindergarten level of debating with amusement and support for their candidate, as if presidential politics had sunk to the level of a world wrestling federation match. Are these people hoping that one candidate will hit the other with a metal folding chair?

Presidential election debates take place in late September or October. At one time in history, political parties legitimately did not know who their candidate for president would be until the summer convention. A popular retort following the Democratic convention of 1844 was "who is James K. Polk?" For many people in the country, it was a valid question. After the Republican Convention of 1876, nominee Rutherford Hayes had no idea who the man chosen to be his running mate was. "Who is Wheeler?" he telegraphed, as if he was answering a Jeopardy question. ("I'll take obscure Vice-Presidents for $1000 Alex.")

Today however public campaigning for president begins after the midterms, with intra-party debates beginning 18 months prior to the election. By the time October of the next year rolls around, the majority of people will generally know who they are voting for, with the election becoming a battle for the hearts and minds (and votes) of less than 10% of the population of a handful of "swing states". Do debates tip the balance in these contests?

In his "13 Keys" system of predicting the outcome of Presidential elections, Professor Alan J. Lichtman suggests that there are 13 "keys" or conditions which serve as predictors of every presidential election. If 5 or fewer of these keys are false, the incumbent party wins the next election, but if 6 or more are false, the incumbent party loses the white house. According to Professor Lichtman, this formula has predicted every Presidential election in the modern era. Listed below, none of these suggest that any weight should be placed on debate performance. Some support for this conclusion is found in past history. George W. Bush's poor performance in the 2004 debates did not impede his re-election. Was the 1980 election won because Ronald Reagan asked Americans if they were worse off than they were four years ago, or because most Americans were actually worse off? If having to attend a debate and defend a recorded comment made by candidate Donald Trump about his being famous enough to be able to grab women "by the pussy" doesn't terminate a presidential candidate's chances to win, what does it take?

Debates offer the candidates access to a very large viewing audience. It allows them to attack their opponent's record in the presence of that opponent. Debates offer the opportunity to put pointed and direct questions to the candidate, targeting matters that voters want to know and that informed voters should know, even if the candidates refuse to answer those questions. But do debates really matter in the end?

My conclusion is that it is only in the very closest of election that a candidate's performance in a debate might make a difference to the voters and in the outcome of the election. Far more often than not, and in their present format, debates are generally a waste of time. This is so because there is no mechanism in place to require candidates to answer the questions put to them, or to enforce the rules of the debate that the candidates have agreed to.

Campaigns negotiate agreements over debate rules that will later be broken. Moderators get blamed for that, when they are doing the best they can under the circumstances. Campaigns that believe that they are ahead will refuse to participate in debates unless the debates take place on their terms. However neither campaign want to be accused of cowardice in refusing to debate, and so there are limits on what the leading campaign can insist on. But generally, it is the voters who are the losers in these negotiations.

So, here is my proposal for the reform of presidential debate procedure. These proposals are based on the premise that the debates are an entitlement of the electorate and not an indulgence by the campaigns. The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) should insist on certain basic rules of conduct, with meaningful sanctions for breaching those rules, before allowing a candidate to attend a debate. Any campaign refusing to adhere to these basic rules, crafted for the benefit of the voter, should be condemned for a lack of integrity and for lacking the courage to submit its platform and policies to fair and genuine scrutiny.

These are the rule changes I would propose:

1) Candidates' microphones should be turned on only when it is their turn to speak, and only for the allotted time. Otherwise they should be turned off. When the time is up, the microphone is silent.

2) The moderator's role is to pose the questions to the candidates. The moderator must not debate with or challenge or contradict the answers of the candidate, as was done by CNN's Candy Crawley in 2012. The candidates are there to debate one another, not the moderator.

3) There should be a maximum of two debates, one on domestic issues, and on on foreign affairs.

4) A panel (either of journalists, academics or voters) should be randomly selected, whose function it will be to grade each candidate as to whether or not the candidate has answered the question put to him or her. The grades could be: yes, partly, or no. In this way, those candidates who dodge a question, who obfuscate, or who pivot to another answer can be called out and shamed for doing so, and for denying the voters a straight answer to what voters want to know.

It is unlikely that the campaigns would agree to this kind of accountability. But if debates were offered to candidates on this basis, one of two things would happen: (1) either the candidates would agree and the debates would become more valuable to voters; or (2) candidates would refuse to hold debates and time would not be wasted on meaningless displays of hubris and disingenuous posturing.


I suspect that a very small percentage of people have had their minds changed during the current election about where to park their vote because of the debates that have occurred thus far. Polarization is strong, and it has resulted in an unhealthy lack of respect for and contempt of persons who do not think the same. Reform of the system for Presidential Election Debates would be one small step in the right direction of restoring dignity to the political process and respect for diversity of thought.

Presidential Election Debates: The First 2020 Debate (Trump vs. Biden)

On October 11, 2019, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that it planned to host four debates during the 2020 presidential election campaign. Three of the four presidential debates were to be between incumbent president Donald Trump, Democratic nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden, and any other participants that qualify. The other debate was a vice presidential debate between incumbent vice president Mike Pence, Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, and any third party candidates that meet the criteria. Later in that year, President Trump complained that the 2016 debates had been "biased." A meeting was held between Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., a Republican and co-chairman of the commission, and Brad Parscale, President Trump's campaign manager. Farhrenkopf told the New York Times that "the president wanted to debate, but they had concerns about whether or not to do it with the commission." President Trump also requested additional debates to the traditional three, but the Biden campaign declined the request.

At the end of June of 2020, representatives of the Biden campaign confirmed that they had agreed to the original schedule proposed by the CPD. In August, the CPD rejected a request by the Trump campaign to shift the debates to an earlier date, or to add a fourth debate in relation to mail-in voting. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi suggested that Biden should skip the debates. She advised Biden to do so because, in her words, the President would "probably act in a way that is beneath the dignity of the presidency". Biden responded by saying that he wants to go ahead and participate.

The CPD set the following qualifications for participation in the debates:

1.The participant must be constitutionally eligible to hold the presidency.
2. He or she must appear on a sufficient number of ballots to have a mathematical possibility of winning a majority vote in the Electoral College.
3. The participant must be on a ticket that has a level of support of at least 15% of the national electorate as determined by five national public opinion polling organizations selected by the commission, using the average of those organizations' most recently reported results at the time of determination.

The five polls were chosen with the advice of Frank Newport of Gallup, who would determine the five polls in their discretion, using these criteria:

1. The reliable frequency of polling and sample size used by the polling organization.
2. The soundness of the survey methodology employed by the polling organization.
3. The longevity and reputation of the polling organization.

The five polls chosen were: (1) ABC/Washington Post Poll; (2) CNN Poll; (3) Fox News Poll; (4) NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll and (5) NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll. Using those polls, only the Republican and Democratic Candidates were invited to participate in the debates. Three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate were initially scheduled. The first was held on Tuesday, September 29, 2020 at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. The debate was moderated by Chris Wallace of Fox News. It was held at the Samson Pavilion of the Health Education Campus (HEC), which is shared by Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland. It was originally scheduled to take place in the Phillip J. Purcell Pavilion located within the Edmund P. Joyce Center at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, but Notre Dame withdrew as a host site on July 27, 2020, due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Entering into the debate, Biden enjoyed a lead in the polls of just over 6% according to RealClearPolitics (RCP) and their aggregate of poll numbers. Their numbers on the night before the debate had Biden at 49.4% and Trump at 43.3%. Biden's lead in the polls was supplemented by an uptake in campaign donations as well.

Since Biden's nomination as the Democratic Party's candidate for President, the Trump campaign had attempted to leave the impression that Biden was suffering from dementia and that he was taking performance enhancing drugs during the primaries. Trump himself had called for Biden to be drug tested before the debate. He also claimed that Biden planned to use a hidden electronic earpiece for the debate. Biden laughed off both of these accusations.

Trump also made repeated claims that the election would be rigged by means of voter fraud, especially by fraud involving the use of mail in ballots. In the weeks leading up to the debate, Trump became part of various controversies. Bob Woodward's second book on the Trump presidency, entitled Rage (reviewed here in this community) made mention of a recording made in February 2020, in which Trump indicated that he understood the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic early on. Trump defended his attempts to publicly downplay the severity of the pandemic, saying that "I don't want to create a panic."

The New York Times had also published an investigation into President Trump's federal tax returns, which found that the president had paid no tax at all in 10 out of 15 years studied, and only $750 in federal income tax for 2016 and 2017. They reported that his businesses lost money in most years, using this to challenge claims by the Trump campaign that the President was a superior businessman.

A few days before the debate, the US passed the milestone of 200,000 deaths from COVID-19, a figure which represented 20% of worldwide fatalities, despite the US having only 4% of the world's population.

Another contentious issues was the recent death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ginsburg was one part of the Supreme Court's bloc of liberal justices. The day after Ginsberg's funeral, President Trump nominated conservative Amy Coney Barrett. Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised a vote on her nomination before Election Day, a controversial stance in light of Senate Republicans' refusal to consider a Supreme Court nomination by President Barack Obama in an election year.

At the debate, the plan was to divide it into six segments: (1) the candidates' records, (2) the Supreme Court, (3) the coronavirus pandemic, (4) race and violence in cities, (5) election integrity, and (6) the economy. Each segment was intended to last approximately 15 minutes. The moderator introduced each topic and gave each candidate two minutes to speak, followed by facilitated discussion between them. But the allotted time was generally not followed. President Trump repeatedly interrupted and criticized his opponent and on several occasions, Biden responded in kind to Trump, at one time calling his opponent a "clown" and another time telling him, "will you shut up man." On several occasions, an exasperated Wallace pleaded with the candidates to respect the rules of the debate.

During the debate, Trump was asked if he would condemn white supremacy groups. Trump relied "Give me a name...", Biden responded by saying "The Proud Boys". Trump then said "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by, but I'll tell you what, I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about Antifa and the Left, because this is not a right-wing problem, this is a left-wing problem." Biden replied that Antifa was an idea, not an organization. When asked about police reform, Biden called for an increase in police funding, adding that such funds would be used to hire psychologists or psychiatrists who would accompany police officers during 9-1-1 calls in order to defuse situations and reduce the use of force.

Biden refused to answer directly a question about whether, if elected, he intended to add additional seats to the United States Supreme Court in an effort to add additional liberal justices to the court.

When Biden referred to Trump's remarks in March 2020 about injecting disinfectant to treat the COVID-19 virus, Trump said it was made sarcastically. Biden stated that the trade deficit with China is higher and that violent crime is up, facts that have since been disputed. Trump criticized Biden's handling of the 2009 swine flu pandemic, a pandemic in which an estimated 60 million cases in the United States occurred and had an estimated death toll of about 12,000. When Biden mentioned that Trump should get "a lot smarter", Trump said, "Don't ever use the word smart with me, don't ever use that word. There's nothing smart about you, Joe." Sparks also flew when Trump attacked Biden's son Hunter, while Biden staunchly defended the life and service of his late son Beau.

A post-debate CNN poll found that 60% of debate-viewers thought that Biden had won and 28% thought Trump had. A CBS News poll taken following the debate reported that 48% of people thought Biden won, 41% of people thought Trump won, while 10% considered it a tie. The same poll saw 83% of the respondents believing that the tone of the debate was negative, while 17% believed it was positive.

Rick Santorum, a former Republican senator, later said that it was a "huge mistake" by Trump not to condemn white supremacy properly during the debate. The day after the debate, Trump said, I don't know who Proud Boys are, but whoever they are, they have to stand down." On October 1, Trump said on Sean Hannity's show: "I've said it many times, and let me be clear again: I condemn the KKK. I condemn all white supremacists. I condemn the Proud Boys. I don't know much about the Proud Boys, almost nothing. But I condemn that."

The debate had a total of at least 73.1 million viewers on television, according to Nielsen ratings. It was the third most watched debate in U.S. history, behind the first debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016 (84 million), and the only debate between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan in 1980 (80.6 million).

A second debate was scheduled for Thursday, October 15, 2020, but was cancelled following President Trump's diagnosis of coronavirus. Instead the two candidates held competing townhall meetings. A third debate is currently scheduled for Thursday, October 22, 2020 at
Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.

On Wednesday, October 7, 2020, a debate between the two candidates for Vice-President (incumbent republican Mike Pence and Democratic California Senator Kamala Harris) was held at the University of Utah. It was moderated by Susan Page of USA Today. President Trump and a number of White House individuals had tested positive for COVID-19 on October 2, 2020. For the Vice-Presidential candidates' debate, it was decided that Pence and Harris would sit at least 12 feet apart. On October 5, the Commission on Presidential Debates approved the use of plexiglass, but that the candidates and moderator would each be allowed to choose whether they wanted such a barrier near their own body.

The debate was planned to be divided into nine 10-minute segments, but the moderator was only able to ask candidates about eight topics. During the debate, moderator Susan Page asked both vice presidential candidates if they had discussed with their running mates, "about safeguards or procedures when it comes to presidential disability." The issue had was prompted by the age of both presidential candidates (both are in their 70s) and Trump's hospitalization with COVID-19. Both Pence and Harris dodged the question and instead pivoted to other topics. When Harris was asked if she would support an expansion of the number of justices on the Supreme Court if the Senate confirmed Trump's nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Court, she did not answer the question.

Much was made in media and social media circles about a fly that landed on Pence's head during the debate. The black fly was noticeable in contrast to Pence's white hair, distracting from an answer he gave praising the efforts of police officers.

The debate had a total of 57.9 million viewers on TV and had the second-largest television audience of any U.S. vice presidential debate. It was watched by an estimated 22 million more people than the amount who watched the 2016 vice presidential debate, behind the only debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden in 2008.

Presidential Election Debates: The Third Debate Between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton (2016)

The third and final presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton took place on October 19, 2016. It was held at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, and was moderated by Chris Wallace of Fox News. The debate began with Wallace asking the candidates what their criteria would be for filling vacancies on the United States Supreme Court. Both expressed different visions, with Clinton expressing the hope that the court would overturn the Citizen's United decision, support Roe v. Wade and permit reasonable limitations on gun ownership. Trump reluctantly acknowledged that he wants Roe v. Wade overturned so that the issue of abortion can become a matter for each state to decide.

The most talked about moment of the debate was when Trump was asked by moderator Chris Wallace whether he would accept the election's results. Trump replied: "I will look at it at the time." He continued to use the word "rigged" in complaining about media bias, inaccurate voter rolls and the FBI's decision not to charge Clinton over her use of a private email server. Wallace pressed on about whether Trump would accept the election's outcome, Trump said "I will keep you in suspense." Clinton responded by saying "That's horrifying."

Trump was asked by Wallace about the multiple women who have come forward accusing him of sexual assault since the second presidential debate. Clinton pointed out that Trump's defense, used repeatedly at rallies, has been to suggest the women weren't attractive enough. She said, "Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger. He goes after their dignity, their self-worth, and I don't think there is a woman anywhere who doesn't know what that feels like," she said. When Trump replied "nobody has more respect for women than I do," Wallace had to admonish the crowd, which had started laughing.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was referenced at the debate as Clinton deflected a question about hacked email into an accusation that Putin was behind the hacking and that what the Russian wanted was a Trump presidency. She referred to Trump as "Putin's puppet." When Trump said Russian President Vladimir Putin would rather deal with him than Clinton, she said: "Well that's because he'd rather have a puppet as president of the United States." Trump later said "But if the United States got along with Russia, that wouldn't be so bad."

Trump once again attacked Clinton for failing to achieve change during her 30 years in public service. He said that Clinton has "been in a position to help," but "the problem is, you talk, but you don't get anything done, Hillary. You don't." Clinton replied, "You know, back in the 1970s, I worked for the Children's Defense Fund, and I was taking on discrimination against African-American kids in schools. He was getting sued by the Justice Department for racial discrimination in his apartment buildings. In the 1980s, I was working to reform the schools in Arkansas. He was borrowing $14 million from his father to start his businesses. In the 1990s, I went to Beijing and I said women's rights are human rights. He insulted a former Miss Universe, Alicia Machado, called her an eating machine. And on the day when I was in the Situation Room, monitoring the raid that brought Osama bin Laden to justice, he was hosting the 'Celebrity Apprentice.'"

Trump began the debate calmly, but towards the end his frustration began to show as he interrupted Clinton at one point, leaning into the microphone and saying: "Such a nasty woman." Generally the dislike that the candidates have for one another was palpable, with the two refusing to shake hands at the end of the debate.

A CNN/ORC instant poll found 52% of debate watchers viewed Clinton as the winner compared to 39% who felt the same about Trump. But a deeper look at the poll results presents a picture of a much closer race. Half of voters (50%) who watched the debate said that Clinton agreed with them more on the important issues, while 47% thought Trump did. They thought Clinton had the better understanding of the issues by a wider margin (61% to 31%), and that she was better prepared to handle the presidency (59% to 35%). The poll also disclosed that most voters' minds weren't changed by the debate. 54% of those who watched said that the debate would have no effect on their vote, and those who did feel swayed were about evenly split between Trump (23%) and Clinton (22%).

Voters who watched were also divided on the question of who would better handle the economy (50% said Clinton, 48% Trump), immigration (50% Trump to 48% Clinton), and nominations to the Supreme Court (49% said Trump, 48% Clinton). Clinton held a narrow edge on handling the federal budget (50% to 46%) and was also seen as better able to handle foreign policy (55% to 41%).

Presidential Election Debates: The Second 2016 Presidential Debare

The second presidential debate of the 2016 Presidential Election was held on October 9, 2016. It took place at Washington University in a "town hall meeting" format. A number of uncommitted voters were selected by the Gallup Organization and some of those persons were given the opportunity to ask the candidates questions. The Commission on Presidential Debates also invited members of the public to submit and vote on questions through the bipartisan Open Debate Coalition's website and the debate moderators chose from among the 30 most popular questions. Under the debate formal, candidates were given two minutes to respond to each question, with an additional minute for the moderator to facilitate further discussion. Quite often both candidates spoke beyond their allotted time, and above the moderators' objection. The debate was moderated by Anderson Cooper of CNN and Martha Raddatz of ABC News.

The debate occurred in the aftermath of one of the most controversial incidents of the campaign. On Friday, October 7, the Washington Post released a video showing a 2005 conversation between Donald Trump and radio host Billy Bush (nephew of former President George H. W. Bush) in which Trump made some very lewd comments about women. The end of the conversation, in which Trump talked about an attractive woman who was present, went as follows:

TRUMP: "Yeah that's her in the gold. I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I'm automatically attracted to beautiful -- I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star they let you do it. You can do anything."

BUSH: "Whatever you want."

TRUMP: "Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything."

When the second debate began last night, the candidates took the stage without shaking hands, though their spouses did. The debate began with explosive attacks as Trump was asked about the remarks. He called it "locker room talk" and said that he was not proud of his comments, but that he had apologized for the remarks, before comparing what he had done to what Bill Clinton had done and how Hillary Clinton had enabled his actions by attacking his accusers.Trump said that his lewd remarks did not compare to Bill Clinton’s history with women. “If you look at Bill Clinton, far worse,” Trump said. Trump disputed that the recording amounted to bragging about sexual assault. He said "I have great respect for women, nobody has more respect for women than I do."

Hillary Clinton said that while she disagreed with past Republican nominees, "I never questioned their fitness to serve. Donald Trump is different,” adding that, despite Mr. Trump’s insistence that the recording did not reflect his character, “It’s clear to anyone who heard it that it represents exactly who he is.”

Trump was also attacked about his finances. He acknowledged that he had avoided paying federal income taxes for years, but said that he was proposing changes to income tax laws that would be personally disadvantageous to him. He criticized Clinton for doing nothing during her time in public service to change income tax laws, accusing her of doing so in order to help her donors.

Trump made several harsh attacks on Clinton, vowing that if he was elected president, he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate her and accusing her of carrying “hate in her heart.” Trump said that if he wins the election, “I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation,” citing her use of a private email server as secretary of state. Mrs. Clinton pointedly said she could not spend all of her time fact-checking Mr. Trump, advising viewers to go to her website to see his falsehoods. She said it was a good thing that Mr. Trump was not in charge of the laws in the country. Trump quickly retorted: “Because you’d be in jail.”

Clinton reiterated several times that she was an experienced public servant and she called Trump "unfit to be president." She said that Trump “owes our country an apology.”

At the end of the debate, an audience member asked the candidates to name one positive quality about their opponent. Clinton did not directly compliment Trump, but said “I respect his children,” adding “his children are incredibly able and devoted and I think that says a lot about Donald. I don’t agree with nearly anything else he says or does, but I do respect that.” Trump was more complimentary to his opponent, expressing gratitude for the compliment about his children and adding, “I will say this about Hillary: She doesn’t quit. She doesn’t give up. I respect that.” The debate ended, and the pair shook hands.

Trump was critical of the moderators, who he perceived as being unfair to him. Trump asked moderator Anderson Cooper why he had not spent more time discussing Mrs. Clinton’s private email server.“Nice, one on three,” he said, suggesting the moderators were teaming up on him. On another occasion, when Trump criticized Clinton's strategy of announcing where ISIS would be attacked in advance of such attacks, moderator Martha Raddatz, rather than asking a question, seemed to come to Clinton's defense by making an argument as to why this might be a good strategy.

When the candidates were asked about how to stop Islamophobia, Trump said, “You’re right about Islamophobia and that’s a shame” but then went on to attack what he called “radical Islamic terrorists.” He referred to the mass shooting in Orlando and the attacks on the World Trade Center. Clinton said “We are not at war with Islam,” adding “it plays into the hands of the terrorists to act as though we are.”

Clinton was asked about a remark, leaked from a private speech, in which she seemed to stress the importance of keeping both a public and a private position on given issues as a political figure. She said she was following the example of Abraham Lincoln as he sought to convince lawmakers to ally with him. Trump was not buying this explanation, stating “Now she’s blaming the lie on the late, great Abraham Lincoln. Honest Abe never lied.”

Clinton kept trying to link Trump with Russian hackers seeking to influence the election with strategic leaks. She said, “Believe me, they’re not doing it to get me elected,”

The candidates were asked about the Affordable Care Act. Trump called the program “a disaster. You know it, we all know it.” Clinton was asked about recent remarks from her husband, in which he criticized the health care plan. She said “If we were to start all over again, we might come up with a different system,” but she then contract this with the consequences that would occur if the Affordable Care Act was repealed, as Trump has promised to do.

The candidates were asked about the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Clinton blamed Russia for much of the problem and once again accused Trump of being pro-Russia. Trump said that Clinton “talks tough against Russia, but our nuclear program has fallen way behind.” When Martha Raddatz, asked about remarks of Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, on Syria, Mr. Trump said, “He and I haven’t spoken and I disagree.”

Anderson Cooper asked Trump if he had the discipline to lead, citing a recent tweet from Trump in which he advised followers to “check out” a sex tape featuring a former pageant winner who was referred to by Hillary Clinton in the previous debate. Trump denied that he had mentioned a sex tape. He also defended his tweets, saying “Tweeting happens to be a modern-day form of communication. I’m not un-proud of it.”

The candidates were about the kind of Supreme Court appointments they would make. Clinton said she wanted “a Supreme Court that will stick with Roe v. Wade and a women’s right to choose” while Trump said he hoped to find judges “very much in the mold of Justice Scalia”

After the debate, a CNN poll (of which more respondents identified as Democrats) was taken on the subject of who won the debate. 57% of respondents said Clinton 57% and 37% said Trump. But 63% said Trump did better than they expected he would. CNN said it polled viewers who actually watched the debates, as opposed to a national survey of all voters.


Presidential Election Debates: The 2016 Vice-Presidential Debate

The one and only debate between the candidates for Vice-President from the two major parties during the 2016 election took place on Tuesday, October 4 at Virginia's Longwood University. The debate was moderated by Elaine Quijano of CBS news. The format consisted of nine segments, each 10 minutes in length, in which each candidate had two minutes to respond to questions, with the remaining time used for a deeper discussion of the topic.

For the Democratic Party's candidate, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, his strategy was to aggressively challenge his opponent, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, over a number of controversial positions and statements made by Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump. In response, Pence chose not to take the bait and chose to let much of Kaine's criticism of Trump go unchallenged. Instead Pence spoke about his party's conservative agenda on tax policy, entitlements and immigration. His spin was geared at painting the Democratic ticket as career politicians unwilling to shake up Washington.

Kaine's debate style involved more interruptions of his opponent, while Pence displayed a calmer demeanor. Kaine was critical of Trump's decision to break with decades of campaign tradition by not releasing his taxes. Pence defended Trump, said that his running mate "used the tax code just the way it's supposed to be used, and he did it brilliantly."

Social and moral issues were discussed in this debate to a significant degree, with Kaine, a Roman Catholic who has consistently voted in favor of abortion rights, asking Pence, "Why doesn't Donald Trump trust women to make this choice for themselves?" Pence stressed his opposition to abortion and said he was "proud to be standing with Donald Trump" on the issue.

On the subject of national security, Kaine was critical of Trump of making complimentary comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin. Pence responded by criticizing Hillary Clinton's record as Secretary of State, saying: "The weak and feckless foreign policy of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama has awakened an aggression in Russia that first appeared in Russia a few years ago. All the while, all we do is fold our arms and say we're not having talks anymore."

A CNN Poll asked voters who they thought won the poll, and 48% said that Pence did, while 42% said that Kaine did. Pence was criticized after the debate for not defending Donald Trump's comments, while Kaine was criticized for being too aggressive and interrupting his opponent too much. Elaine Quijano was praised for how she moderated the debate. She was the first Asian American to moderate a U.S. debate for national elected office in the general election, as well as the youngest journalist to moderate a debate since 1988 (when the VP debate was moderated by a 41 year old Judy Woodruff). According to Nielsen, the four broadcast networks and the three largest cable news channels averaged around 36 million viewers for the debate.