Presidential Debate

From the town hall to the teleprompter.

Lincoln and Douglas

By Allen C. Guelzo

The centerpiece of the 1858 Illinois Senate race was a series of debates between incumbent Stephen A. Douglas, an acknowledged oratorical master, and his opponent Abraham Lincoln, a prairie lawyer of little renown. The issues they discussed — chief among them slavery — were of paramount importance to the United States as civil war loomed. Though Douglas won reelection, Lincoln’s articulate and earnest arguments earned him a national following that eventually propelled him to the presidency. Lincoln scholar Allen C. Guelzo lets a vital moment in American history speak for itself.

Tension City

By Jim Lehrer

Veteran journalist Jim Lehrer has moderated eleven presidential and vice-presidential debates (twelve, including 2012’s first debate between President Obama and Governor Romney), and in this lively chronicle of his time as “the man in the middle seat” he gives readers a ringside perspective on some of the most influential verbal jousting of our era. From rhetorical gaffes that swayed the balance of power to behind-the-scenes moments television viewers missed, Lehrer showcases highlights and lowlights in clashes between Kennedy and Nixon, Obama and McCain, and many more.

The Making of the President 1960

By Theodore H. White

In a book that redefined political journalism, Theodore H. White crafts an almost mythical account of the battle between Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice-President Richard M. Nixon for the presidency. No moment was more crucial to the outcome than the televised debates, the first of their kind. Kennedy, already a handsome man, had been working on his tan while prepping with his aides. Nixon, pale and underweight from a recent hospitalization, appeared sickly and sweaty. Though radio listeners thought Nixon had won, television viewers walked away with a far different opinion. The rest is history.

The Presidential Debates

By Alan Schroeder

Alan Schroeder’s comprehensive chronicle of televised presidential debates draws on his own experience as a reporter and television producer. Live debates are often departures from carefully choreographed campaigns, and the author surveys every aspect of the process from pre-debate prep to post-debate damage control, from camera angles to set design. Along the way he draws readers’ attention to changes in format (for example, allowing candidates to sit together at a table as opposed to stand at separate podiums) that have fundamentally altered how the contenders are viewed by the American electorate.

No Debate

By George Farah

As the importance of presidential debates — broadcast to tens of millions of Americans — has become glaringly apparent to political campaigns, both parties have sought to exert more control over scripting, time limits, question choice, and the inclusion of third-party candidates. Their efforts have been surprisingly successful, due in large part to the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates. Author and lobbyist George Farah argues that what are increasingly staged recitations threaten the spontaneity of the debates and, consequentially, make a mockery of free and fair elections. Sure to provoke debate.