CHARLS E. WALKER, cochairman of the 1976 Debates Steering Committee: Dr. Kirkpatrick has written an excellent paper, and I learned a great deal from it. But I do want to challenge his judgment that it is highly unlikely that incumbents will debate in the future. I would like to advance the hypothesis -- but I believe it is more than a hypothesis -- that there will be debates much more frequently than not, though perhaps not in every election. The reason for the change is that when incumbents are involved, they will find it an exceedingly difficult task for a president to do a good job of running this country, at least as perceived by the people. Thus, during his first term, a president is likely to be down in the polls more often than he is up, not because he is not able, but because of the very nature of the job, the nature of the pocketbook issues and the economic problems.
Some past experience here, I think, is misleading. If LBJ had decided to run for re-election in 1968, I think he would have been hard pressed not to debate, especially if Nixon had taken the advice of Richard Whalen in the spring of 1968 and come out strongly against the Vietnam War.
In 1972 the Democratic candidate did not go over well at all. This was a very high and rising period in the Nixon presidency, reflecting to no small extent the Connally-Nixon (and I put them in that order intentionally) economic policies, which had the country moving sharply ahead economically at the time of the election. But suppose the situation had been like 1970, when we Republicans were decimated in the congressional elections, largely because unemployment and inflation were rising rapidly at the time we went to the polls. If Nixon had been running at that time, I submit that he would have been hard pressed not to debate if so challenged. So, if I were a. betting man, and I am a betting man, I would bet that we will have more debates than not in the future.
KIRKPATRICK: Well, I'm a betting man too; maybe we can arrange something. The candidates decide whether or not it is advantageous,
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Publication information: Book title: The Past and Future of Presidential Debates. Contributors: Austin Ranney - Editor. Publisher: American Enterprise Institute. Place of publication: Washington, DC. Publication year: 1979. Page number: 51.