You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

TNR Debate Archives

Though it may felt unpatriotic even to discuss the possibility of a presidential debate when we complied this, we did. Here’s some of TNR’s best past debate coverage (and a few of our outside favorites):

TNR Debate Archives:

November 12, 1984: "Call to Glory: My One Brief Shining Moment” By Morton Kondracke

On being a moderator: “I wake up at 4:30, debate questions buzzing in my head”

October 29, 1984: “Trading Places: Reagan Plays the Plodder, Mondale the Communicator” By Sidney Blumenthal

“A week before the Presidential debate, officials of the Reagan campaign began distributing their post-debate talking points.”

October 17, 1988: “Spin Cycle” By Morton M. Kondracke

“I feel vindicated and emboldened to declare about this year’s first debate: Dukakis wiped Bush out.”

October 17, 1988: “Campaign ’88: A Prig Or A Fool” By Hendrik Hertzberg

“In the wake of the the first presidential ‘debate’ of the fall campaign, the joint news conference held at Wake Forest University on September 25, it seems reasonably safe to predict that the outcome of the election will turn on how the voters answer two questions.”

November 7, 1988: “Debate Three: The Remix… And What If?” By Hendrik Hertzberg

“From the very outset of the second and final presidential ‘debate’ of the 1988 general election campaign, there were intimations that this one was going to be different.”

November 9, 1992: “Why Am I Here? A Debate Roundup” By Sidney Blumenthal

“In the first debate, Bush unleashed his ‘character’ attack on Clinton, which Clinton blunted by citing Bush's father, Senator Prescott Bush. ... When Clinton mentioned the name 'Prescott Bush,' George Bush emitted an involuntary grunt as though he felt the wound deep within. Perot, the carny barker, tied Bush to a spinning wheel and tossed knives at him, rarely missing his target. In the polls, Bush finished third."

October 14, 1996: “Putting Parties First” By the Editors

“Few politicians have less claim to the protections of democratic principle than Ross Perot, who has done everything in his power to quash dissent within the fiefdom he calls the Reform Party. And we doubt Perot's challenge to his exclusion from the presidential debates has much basis in law, as opposed to politics.”

October 26, 1996: “Prep School: Clinton Breezes Through the Debates” By Roger Simon

“To the Clinton campaign, the debate was never really the point. A week before it began, campaign strategists were already looking beyond it. They expected Clinton would win--this is a man who began speaking to large public groups while still in high school, after all. (And to give their man an added edge, Clinton's team held out for a ninety-minute-long format, which they thought would leave Dole tired and testy.) For the Clinton staff, the debate was merely another ‘must-win’ moment for Bob Dole in which Bob Dole could not possibly win.”

October 16, 2000: “Overspin” By Michelle Cottle

“The real action--the reason we have traveled here, the reason Kerry is here, and the reason twentysomethings in both camps haven't slept for weeks--comes immediately after. It's been dubbed Spin Alley, the stretch of real estate directly in front of where the myriad TV crews have set up shop for the night. And, even before Gore and George W. wave goodbye to the crowd, each campaign will unleash a flood of surrogates to educate journalists about why tonight was so great for its man.”

October 23, 2000: “Judge Not” By Andrew Sullivan

“For once, it seemed to me, Gore overestimated Bush's intellect. If you believe W. has spent a lot of time calculating the ‘code words’ of strict constructionism, you probably believe Gore's mother-in-law's dog is a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry.”

November 6, 2000: “Yuck, Yuck” By Jonathan Cohn

“It also demonstrated how unwilling the pundits are to make pronouncements on matters of policy--either out of sheer laziness or inability to grasp the most basic facts of lawmaking--even as they feel completely free to engage in witless banter about the candidates' personalities and backgrounds. It showed, once again, how pundits acknowledge only candidate flaws that play to stereotypes--in this case, Gore's stiffness as a campaigner."

September 28, 2004: “Voice Over” By David Greenberg

“The debates are dull because they're predictable. They've become formulaic. The same (or interchangeable) talking heads ask the same (or interchangeable) questions and solicit the same (or interchangeable) answers. Every candidate knows how to prepare, staging rehearsals in which they practice their sound-bites while a staffer plays the role of the opponent.”

October 1, 2004: “Distinguished Speakers” By Jeremy McCarter

“Even if you acknowledge the obvious drawbacks--the ‘debate’ was not really a debate, a first-rate rhetorician like Tony Blair would have shredded both these guys, simultaneously--you have to be pleased with last night's proceedings. For once, nobody called anybody a traitor, and both sides used their inside voices. Issues may not have been argued in depth but at least they were aired. It begs a question: What does it say about the campaign that it only got serious when it took on the trappings of a TV game show?”

October 1, 2004: “More Of The Same: Neither Bush Nor Kerry Offered Realistic Plans For Iraq Last Night” By John B. Judis

“What they say becomes foreign policy. And in the case of a major issue like the Iraq war, the challenger must also be careful not to make promises he has no intention of keeping. So from a standpoint of future foreign policy, and not merely domestic political success, it is worth looking at what Bush and John Kerry said about Iraq in their first debate last night. What one discovers is not reassuring.”

October 14, 2004: “Mission Not Accomplished: How You Can Tell That Bush Lost” By Noam Scheiber

“There was, quite simply, no way for Bush to win the debate if people didn't walk away from it believing Kerry would massively increase the size of government, jack up taxes, outlaw guns, and pay poor people to have abortions. That never happened. (Another thing that never happened: Bush never wiped the spittle off of the right corner of his mouth. If it distracted me--I actually care about what the candidates are saying--I don't see how it didn't distract the rest of the country.)”

October 14, 2004: “Winner Take All” By Ryan Lizza

“These nit-picky points about style probably won't matter that much. Like most of the details of the debates, they will soon be forgotten. But if voters, especially those with reservations about both Bush and Kerry, take away one lesson from the last two weeks, it is probably this: The John Kerry of the debates was not the same John Kerry Bush told everyone about.”

Good Outside Preparation:

October 19, 1996: “The New Walter Cronkite: Jim Lehrer Officially Inherits the Mantle” By Jack Shafer, Slate

July/August 2004: “When George Meets John” By James Fallows, The Atlantic Monthly

September 2008: “Rhetorical Questions: Who Will Win the Debates?” By James Fallows, The Atlantic Monthly

Saturday Night Live Presidential Bash:

George H.W. Bush & Michael Dukakis

Hillary Clinton & Barack Obama

By Eric Zimmermann and Amanda Silverman