— Russell L. Riley and Barbara A. Perry
Just do it
I don’t think anybody in our [1980 Ronald Reagan] organization really wanted to [debate]. They were scared. . . . [Nancy Reagan] was really nervous about a debate, and she entered the fray in the discussions. I had come to a conclusion in my own mind. . . . We’ve got to debate. It’s become part of the system. We’re going to lose more by turning it down. Done the right way, the format and everything done the right way, Reagan can hold his own. That’s all you can ask for. Maybe win, but hold his own. . . .
In that same discussion, Reagan looked at me and said, “I’ve got to do it.”
I said: “That’s right. You’ve got to do it, so you’ve got to get ready and do it right.”
— Stuart Spencer, Ronald Reagan campaign adviser, on the 1980 debates
Practice, practice, practice
So after some pulling and tugging, the president [Carter] agreed to see us in Plains. I think it was a Saturday or a Sunday. We got down there, and we sat in his living room, and I said, “Governor, we have some questions here, and perhaps what we ought to do is throw some questions at you and let you answer, and then we’ll critique it.”
Oh no, that was not going to be done. He didn’t need that. Somehow he either said or implied that that would be contrived, and that was just not the way he was going to do it. He didn’t mind talking through some points, but he was not going to go through any sort of rehearsal. So we talked through it a little bit. I don’t think the session lasted more than an hour or so, and that was it. That was his preparation for the first debate. . . . And then the first debate occurred. His first answer to the first question [about how he would address unemployment] was as dreadful as one could possibly imagine.
— Stuart Eizenstat, assistant to Jimmy Carter, on the 1976 debates
Check the lighting
I noticed that when they put the lights on overhead, that there was a big difference as to how it was in the lighting. I stood at [Democratic nominee Walter] Mondale’s podium and President Reagan stood at his, and we just had a little conversation so he could get a feel of the size. There was only about 10 feet between us. The Mondale people came running up and said: “Get away from that podium. You’re not supposed to be around that podium.” I said, “All right.”
When the lights were on overhead I noticed, as I stepped back, I could see President Reagan. I noticed large sockets under his eyes . . . because the lights above bounced off the podium and cast a shadow back up under his eyes. So I went over quietly and I put a blue pad on our podium. After the president left, I went in and had it measured precisely. So when we came back in, we put our blue down, and the president looked terrific.