A potted history of vice presidential debates

as I remember them.
This, I think, was the first such debate and it’s certainly the first one I remember. It was also the most interesting. Walter Mondale’s genial old-time, big-government liberalism made an inviting target for the wit of Bob Dole. Unfortunately, as the night wore on Dole’s wit became caustic and then nasty. In the latter stages, some of his demons seemed to emerge, as he blamed Democratic presidents for taking the country to war, including World War II where he lost the use of his arm (cautionary note — I was anti-Republican at this time, though I didn’t vote for Carter, so these comments may be somewhat unfair. Come to think of it, they reflect the MSM take on the debate, so they may very well be unfair).
If Mondale and Bush debated, I either missed it or have completely forgotten about it.
After a poor performance by President Reagan in his first debate against Mondale, the pressure was on Vice President Bush. He turned in a serviceable performance against Geraldine Ferraro and received some credit for putting the Reagan-Bush ticket back on track.
Old-timer Lloyd Bentsen had a good night against young Dan Quayle. Bentsen delivered the most memorable line ever in a vice presidential candidate when he reminded Quayle that he was “no Jack Kennedy.” The debate had zero impact on the election, which the senior Bush won easily.
A battle hardened Dan Quayle, with Bill Kristol as his key operative, went after Al Gore and Bill Clinton aggressively. He scored some points but was hampered by the presence of Ross Perot’s running mate, Admiral James Stockdale, who somehow seemed to step on Quayle’s best lines.
I didn’t see the Gore-Kemp square-off. The word was that Kemp did poorly. It didn’t matter. By the time of the debate, Dole had no chance.
Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman both opted for a low risk approach. The resulting love-fest left many voters wishing that these two candidates were at the top of their respective tickets.
Only the 1976 debate can be said to have possibly influenced the outcome of the election. That election was so close that almost anything that happened in the run-up may have influenced it (the 2000 race was even closer, but that vice presidential debate was essentially a non-event). Keep in mind too that Jimmy Carter was thought to have out-debated President Ford, owing to a major gaffe by Ford. Had Ford out-debated Carter, I doubt that Dole’s performance would have mattered at all. So my take is that Tuesday’s debate will matter only if (a) the race is extremely close, (b) one of the two participants resoundingly outdoes the other, and (c) the winner is running with a presidential candidate who does not lose his own three-round affair.


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