In Reagan’s first debate with President Carter, he was inarticulate and unknowledgeable. Moreover he squirmed a lot and appeared uncomfortable.In fact, there were moments when I was embarrassed for him, as we all are when someone performing in front of us is not doing well. Carter, on the other hand, was organized, articulate and very knowledgeable. There was no question in my mind that he had won the debate on both stylistic and substantive points.
I watched that debate and it was my impression as well. Immediately after the debate, they started interviewing campaign staff and surrogates. The Carter people were ebullient, although they carefully tried to not appear overconfident and cocky. The Reagan people were clearly dejected and morose, they saw for themselves how badly “The Boss” had blown this. And then the early polls started coming in. To quote again;
Reagan had won the debate hands down according to the American public. And the survey respondents didn’t say it was simply because they liked Reagan more than Carter. They thought that he performed better, knew what he was talking about better than Carter. What they saw of course was not the actual debate. They saw what they expected to see. In their eyes, at least for debate purposes, they saw a peanut farmer from a one stoplight town in rural Georgia against a famous Hollywood movie star. Obviously the movie star was going to know how to talk and perform better than his opponent.