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A look at the pivotal moments from the last 48 years of presidential debates through the eyes of those who were there.
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Dan Quayle Interview
December 2, 1999

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Vice President, welcome.


JIM LEHRER: You participated in two vice presidential debates, 1988 and then again in 1992. Let's take them one at a time the one with Lloyd Bentsen. How did you prepare for that?

VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: I prepared for that debate probably the way you should not prepare for a debate and that is to really get all the policy questions down to the nth degree. You get the environmental questions, the racial questions, the foreign policy questions, the tax questions, you think of any policy question, get it down, have your four points, get it memorized, it's like taking an exam. And you cram it all in there, knowing that somewhere along the line you're going to be able to use it. And that's the way I prepared for that. You'd say over-prepared, yes.

JIM LEHRER: Did you have run-throughs?

VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: Yeah, I had two rehearsals back and forth... It was myself and former Senator Bob Packwood played Lloyd Bentsen, because he served with Lloyd Bentsen on the Senate Finance Committee in the Senate, and the questions again in the rehearsal were basically policy questions, and so that's what we focused on. And that's not really the best way - of course you have to know the policy, you’ve got to have that. But you have to be in my judgment, you've got to be somewhat relaxed, you've got to be - you've got to have a definite strategy, and my strategy was to get as much information out there and just overwhelm Bentsen and the audience with a lot of facts about the policy issues. And it doesn't necessarily work that way because in television debates going way back to Nixon, you may win the debate on technicalities. You may win the debate on scoring points. But it's how you look. How do you come across? And you don't come across well if you're just all filled with a lot of facts. Just relax, go in and be yourself, have a game plan. But it's not that complicated. It's more feel.

JIM LEHRER: And do you feel that that hurt you?

VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: Yes. Looking at the tapes, I think it did. When I left the stage, except for that one particular line, I didn't know how that was going to play out, but, you know, one-liners and sound bites go a long way these days.

Leaving the stage, I felt I scored a lot of points against Dukakis because Bentsen did not really defend him as I thought that he would. And so I was able to, for 90 minutes or however long the debate was, I think it was 90 minutes, be able to make a Mike Dukakis issue and point out how he was out of step, that he was far too liberal for mainstream America, and I felt very good about those points. But then going back looking at the debate on television, I could see that I was over-prepared, over-coached, if you will, not relaxed, and not as in control as much as I thought I should have been.

JIM LEHRER: Was one of your strategies, or overall points to attack Dukakis and not Bentsen?

VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: Absolutely. Leave Bentsen alone. He was a gentleman, he was a figure in the Senate. I knew him well. I didn't really - I just wanted to pretend like he wasn't even on the stage, and I did. I just went after Dukakis and talked about Dukakis, and I tried to get the L word, if you recall, in the 1988 campaign. Dukakis ran from the L word -  liberal. And I must have used that I don't know how many times, a lot, to remind the audience that Dukakis was, in fact, a true blue liberal that would raise taxes and increase government spending, and not very good for your health.

JIM LEHRER: Now let's talk about the one line, the John F. Kennedy line, where Bentsen said John F. Kennedy was my friend and you're no John F. Kennedy. Did you think that was a cheap shot? What was your thought when you were standing there and he said that?

VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: We actually had anticipated him using a line like that because during the campaign, if you recall, a lot of people, reporters, probably you, Jim, as well, said well, what kind of experience do you really have, and I would always make the factual reference to the experience that I had in the Congress and the Senate, to the experience that Jack Kennedy had before he was elected president - a factual statement. That was it. Not any comparison, but it was a factual statement. And the staff said you know, sometimes you might get in a little trouble with that. I said look, it's just a statement of fact. They said okay, we know that. And then when I made that reference again to the question from the panel, then he used that line, and I was sort of anticipating it.

What I wasn't anticipating was the crowd getting involved as much, and they got very involved, as you can listen on the tape. That I did not expect because there were certain rules or understanding that you had that the crowd was to be there to observe, and not to participate. And they did, and I wasn't prepared for that, but I was somewhat prepared for his line. It was a good line.

JIM LEHRER: Did you feel it hurt you in the long run?

VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: Oh, in the long run, yes, because you guys keep running it over and over again. I'm sure you're going to run it again on this program, and it's not a good moment.

JIM LEHRER: Did you know it was a bad moment at the time?

VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: No, I didn't. When I went back and talked to the folks, I said we got our points across, the game plan went well. I don't know how they're going to play that one line. And neither did they. No one knew. And you don't know. It just gets into a sort of a feeding frenzy, if I may use those words, and all of a sudden two or three days later, that becomes the line.

But in the scheme of things, actually if you go back and look at the overnights and the polls, George Bush actually went up right after the debate. So it may have hurt me, but it sure didn't hurt him, and that was the focus.

JIM LEHRER: Moving to '92, your debate with Al Gore and Jim Stockdale, how did you prepare for that?

VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: Differently. I decided to have two or three issues that I wanted to bring up with Bill Clinton. But again, in a vice presidential debate, you really do ignore the person on the stage. In this particular case I had known Al Gore better than I knew Lloyd Bentsen. I served with him in the House. We were elected together in 1976. Served with him in the Senate, was on the Armed Services Committee with him. So I knew him very well, and I assumed that he would not want to defend Bill Clinton that night, and I was correct. And there were two issues that I wanted to bring up similar to '88.

I wanted to bring up the trust issue - who do you trust the most. I wanted to raise the foreign policy issue, and if you want to show the clip, I looked right in the camera, I said, “Fellow Americans, there is going to be a crisis somewhere in the next four years. We don't know where it's going to be, but it's going to be somewhere around the globe. It could be in the Pacific, it could be in the Middle East, and I want you to think long and hard, who do you want to be there to resolve that foreign policy crisis. Do you want Bill Clinton or do you want President George Bush?”

And so I raised that issue and the trust issue very much because it was on my mind, I thought it was a good issue. And the other issue I raised was taxes, because we had done a study of Bill Clinton's proposal and knew that he had to raise taxes on everyone making more than $25,000. Well, I put that out there, and Dick Darman and others had it already scored and everything like that. But the media didn't believe it, and we had a difficult time convincing the media that this was true. And lo and behold, when Bill Clinton became president, it was true. But that night it was very difficult to convince them that this was true.

I knew I was correct, so we went on the attack on trust and taxes, and the Democrats, if you go back and read Jim Carville's book, he said that was the only time during the campaign, post-convention that they thought that we might have had an opening, and there was a lot of excitement in the Republican circles right after that debate, because we had scored a lot of points on that trust and taxes, and Gore just refused to defend Clinton. Matter of fact, I can remember carrying on the debate on the morning shows the next day, and they finally changed the debate, which you do when you're on the defensive, you're on the ropes, and they made some outlandish statement that Irangate was worse than Watergate, and of course the press went with that. And then the presidential debate took place and the vice presidential debate was sort of pushed aside.

JIM LEHRER: So you felt you won that one.

VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: Oh, I felt very good in the '92 debate. I was very comfortable and very confident when we came out of that debate. And you can tell by the reaction of the people around you, and I also could tell with the traveling press corps, because I wanted to talk about the debate for the next day, two days, and they said well, we want to talk about something else. If I had not done well, they would have been more than happy to talk about that debate, as they did in '88. That's all they wanted to talk about for several days. In '92 they didn't want to talk about it, so I knew that I had done very well.

JIM LEHRER: In both of those debates, I went back and read a lot of stuff going in to those debate and the commentary going in, and particularly in '88, but also again in '92, there was a feeling that you had to establish yourself as being ready to be president of the United States. Did you feel on the defensive that way in a general way in both of those debates?

VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: Clearly in '88, and that's the way that we prepared is just to overwhelm the audience, the moderators, the questions with facts about policy. And we did that, but you also had to attack Dukakis because I wanted to remind the American people that he was truly liberal. But again, it's not just on what you know. It's how you convey what you know, and that is why it's so important. You go back, it's the same thing with the Nixon-Kennedy debates. Nixon technically won that debate, and I think I would suggest go back and read that debate in '88 between myself and Lloyd Bentsen, just read it. Do me a favor and do that, and then ask yourself who won that debate.

JIM LEHRER: Do you believe those two debates - take them in any way you want - do you believe that if somebody watched that, not read it, but watched it on television, would have had a good feel for who Dan Quayle was, what he believed, and what kind of leader he would be?

VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: Probably not. I think it's very difficult in those type of formats to really get a true feeling. You learn a little bit more, but I can tell you, I think you get a lot more in sitting down and talking to someone like you for an hour or an hour and a half, where you can have the follow-up questions, where you can have the give and take. I think it's far more meaningful. It may not be the pressure and all the pomp and ceremony that goes with a presidential or a vice presidential debate, but I think your viewer can get a lot more out of it, get a better feel for it, a better understanding, because these debates are very scripted. You've got time, and you rehearse these things down whether it's 60 second responses, or 90 second responses, the 30 second or 60 second rebuttal, you know what your time is and your thinking in those times. It's not something like this where you can sit down and just do, to express your feelings, what you would do, how you would handle the situation.

So no, I don't think it really gives a true feeling. And quite frankly, I think that clearly the Nixon-Kennedy debates, the one line that Reagan had at the end against Mondale sort of satisfied the question, is he up to being president for four more years. There are a few questions that didn't get answered in the press's mind, but I'm not sure that the American people really walk away and they start talking about that debate three or four days after the debate actually takes place.

JIM LEHRER: You mentioned pressure. Did you feel that oh, my goodness, if I make a mistake, I'm talking about both of these debates, if I make a serious mistake, it could hurt George Bush's chances of election in one case, re-election in the other.

VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: Oh, of course, absolutely, and that's why you're very careful, and choose your words carefully, and make sure that you don't make any major mistakes, gaffes. That's what the press is looking for. And that probably clearly hurt Gerry Ford. He was president at that particular time, and matter of fact, I was just viewing it. It was on CSPAN and they're running these debates, and I happened to catch that give and take on that particular issue, and that was a mistake, but it really wasn't that damaging that night, I don't think. I think it was damage in the fact that for three days they kept defending it, and then they finally walked with it. But clearly there is a lot of pressure, and you don't want to think about it but you know it, that when that light goes on and they go “good evening, welcome to the 1992 vice presidential debate”, 90 million Americans or more are tuning in to take a look at you.

JIM LEHRER: Is there a special pressure, being the vice presidential candidate, because you really can't speak for yourself as openly as you could if you were the presidential candidate.

VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: I haven't been in the presidential debate because I have not been a presidential candidate in the fall campaign. There's clearly more pressure in the presidential campaign, because the vice presidential campaigns, they're important, you're a surrogate, you can go out and get your message out, and you can carry the president, the presidential candidates' agenda, but it's his agenda, and as far as real pressure and real focus, it's at the top of the ticket and not the bottom of the ticket.

JIM LEHRER: Do you think that debates should be a required part of the process, as they almost are?

VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: Well, they essentially are. I don't see how you can walk away from debates. But I do think that if they could figure out a way to have more substantive interviews, just hour long conversations I thought that I didn't get to see all of it, but George W. Bush sitting down with Tim Russert for I think it was an hour. I mean, those are healthy, they're good. They give you a lot more feel, a lot more sense of what he's all about than you're going to get when he goes up and debates the rest of the Republican field in New Hampshire, and Iowa, and things like that.

JIM LEHRER: Do you think that the skills that are required to be a good debater are transferable into being a good president or vice president?

VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: To some extent, because you're always in the public's eye. A good debater can be a good communicator. You have to communicate when you're president of the United States, and communicate effectively with the American people, and with the world. As far as being a good debater, it certainly helps when you're sitting around and having discussions about what you're going to do on foreign policy, what you're going to do on taxes, because if you're able to hone it down to win your point, argue your point, you're just going to be a more effective leader.

So there is a carryover. Not an absolute requirement. You can go back in history and find presidents that were effective presidents that maybe were not terribly skilled debaters, or great speakers. But by and large I think it's a quality and a characteristic that serves you very well as being president of the United States.

JIM LEHRER: Going into these two debates, based on your experience in the House and in the Senate, etc., did you consider yourself a good debater?

VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: I consider myself very-- let me just say this, I was very comfortable with the format. I've always been very comfortable speaking without notes. As a matter of fact, that was one of the transitions I had to make once I got on the vice presidential trail in 1988 because I had never spoke from notes, and you would sometimes wonder, well, he can do that in the Senate, but if you're out there with the national press corps, it's probably not a good idea to do that. But then you become more scripted, you become less spontaneous, and I think spontaneity is a good thing. But no, I considered myself in the House and the Senate, I knew what I was doing. I held my own.

JIM LEHRER: And you felt that when you started those two debates, right?

VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: Oh, absolutely. And I knew both of them, and I had debated to some extent Lloyd Bentsen. Matter of fact, I think it was on your program over plant closing legislation. And I knew him from the Senate, but he was on different committees, and so I didn't really have a real feel on how he would do in a debate. Gore is much different. I knew him. I had debated him, and I knew him pretty well...

JIM LEHRER: The '92 debate, it was unusual in that there were three of you. What did the presence of Admiral Stockdale do for you?

VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: Well, in a way he helped me somewhat because he agreed with some of the things I was saying, and I knew that he would because I knew that he was much more conservative than certainly Al Gore. So I figured he would side with me on a couple of the policy issues.

But it's not good having a three-way debate. It's a two-way debate. You really want to have that head to head. Three-way debate, it gets cluttered. I think it's very difficult for the audience to somewhat follow. And Admiral Stockdale is a wonderful man, a great person, but he had never really been in this forum before, and considering that, I thought he did fine.

JIM LEHRER: He wasn't a distraction from your point of view?

VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: Well, it was a -- I wouldn't use the word distraction, but it was more difficult to continue to focus on Clinton and Gore with Admiral Stockdale there, because I didn't want to talk about Perot. We were really just trying to forget about Ross Perot, and so therefore I would just as soon him not have been on the stage, but he is a wonderful man.

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1st Documentary Recap



Candidate Interviews

John Anderson (I),
Former U.S. Rep. (IL)

George H.W. Bush (R),

Jimmy Carter (D),

Bill Clinton (D),

Bob Dole (R),
United States Senator (KS)

Micheal Dukakis (D),
Governor (MA)

Geraldine Ferraro (D),
Former U.S. Rep. (NY)

Gerald Ford (R),

Jack Kemp (R),
Former U.S. Rep. (NY)

Walter Mondale (D),
Vice President

Dan Quayle (R),
Vice President

Ronald Reagan (R),

Admiral James Stockdale (I),
1992 Vice Presidential Candidate

Produced by MacNeil/Lehrer Productions in association with the Commission on Presidential Debates and WETA

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