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The Speaker’s Lobby: A Universal Interest

Presidential debates changed television.

"You want to put a lot of new Supreme Court justices – radical left!" hollered former President Trump at President Biden during the 2020 debate.

"Will you shut up man?" implored Mr. Biden.


And television changed politics.

"It’s easy to say, ‘Oh, you’ve got to look good on television. Therefore, if you don't, you're doomed.’ It's not quite that easy," said Walter Podrazik, television curator at the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago. "You have to learn how to speak directly through the medium that most people understand. They know television as well as any politician does because they watch it all the time."

That was the problem facing President Biden in Thursday night’s debate with former President Trump.

Mr. Trump fared better because he appeared engaged. Vigorous. President Biden looked pasty and out of it.

It doesn’t matter what Mr. Biden represents or what his policies are.

When it comes to the debate, you must excel at television.

Debates imprinted the importance of live performance onto the debate genre.

That mixed reality TV with politics – long before reality TV was a thing.

"I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience," quipped a 73-year-old President Ronald Reagan during a 1984 debate with former Vice President Walter Mondale, then a youthful 56.

"They brought us whole binders full of women," said 2012 Republican nominee and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) at one of that year’s debates with former President Obama.

2016 Democratic nominee and former Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., was in the middle of saying something about the Social Security Trust Fund in a debate with

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