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Biden-Trump debate compared to Nixon and Kennedy’s historic matchup

Former President Trump and President Biden's match-up at the CNN Presidential Debate is raising comparisons to John F. Kennedy's debate with Richard Nixon.

President Biden and former President Trump’s tense Thursday night match-up was the first debate since 1960 to not feature a live audience.

CNN CEO Mark Thompson told Axios earlier this week that he was aiming for “an absolutely classic debate,” similar to the first-ever televised debate between former Presidents Kennedy and Nixon in 1960. 

It was one of several details that spurred comparisons online between the CNN Presidential Debate and the historically significant first debate between Kennedy and Nixon.


Political commentator S.E. Cupp wrote on X, “Maybe the most consequential debate since Nixon/Kennedy?”

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Nixon, who had just spent the better part of a decade as vice president in the Eisenhower administration, had led then-young Sen. John F. Kennedy in most national polls ahead of the event, according to the National Constitution Center.

However, Kennedy’s team took a more media-savvy approach, accepting an invitation for a media walkthrough before the event and opting for wearing makeup for the cameras, according to reports.

Nixon, feeling the toll of both the intense campaign trail and a recent hospital stay, appeared tired and unhealthy. 

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It was widely reported that people who watched the debate on television thought Kennedy won, and people who listened to it on the radio thought Nixon won. Kennedy went on to win the election by a narrow margin.

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RealClearPolitics elections analyst Nathaniel Rakich made the comparison to Thursday’s debate on X.

“The modern version of the Nixon-Kennedy debate: People who only read the transcript will think Biden won, people who watch or listen will think Trump won,” he wrote.

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Others also compared Biden to Nixon after the 81-year-old president appeared tired and sometimes unfocused while sparring with his rival on screen.

Former Trump 2020 campaign aide Tim Murtaugh wrote on X, “It’s funny. They say that people who listened to Kennedy and Nixon debate on the radio thought Nixon won because he spoke well and made good arguments. But people who watched on TV thought Kennedy won because he looked better.”

“Biden lost both groups tonight,” he added.

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