Wednesday 30 September 2020
The unseemly sight of an ill-mannered and ill-tempered Donald Trump hurling abuse and bile-laden interjection at Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton four years ago, took my mind back to a different era. During the 1976 election I travelled with both Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford to many events around the country, including an eye-opening introduction to southern culture during a seven-week stint based in Georgia, but only covered one of the three live head-to-head debates.
It was the first one in September 1976 at the Walnut Street theatre, Philadelphia. The two antagonists were polite, even deferential, to each other, to such an extent that neither seemed to land a blow on the other, the outcome was not seen as a victory either way, it scarcely moved the then quite narrow poll ratings, and I had to struggle to get a story out of it.
Ford, who had at first trailed badly in the polls due to the pardon he had granted Richard Nixon, then shot himself in the foot in the second debate by declaring - amid the East-West Cold War - that there was "no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration". Carter needed only to stand and listen. Ford, a decent man thrust into the job, had none of Trump's armoury of fake news and bullet-proof feet. ■