The Presidential Debates

Presidential Debates Have Yielded Iconic Moments. Some of Our Favorites.

The Evolution of Presidential Debates 2:45

Remember Al Gore's heavy sigh? Remember George H.W. Bush's watch check? Remember Mitt Romney's "binders full of women?"

The policy positions that fill presidential debates quickly fade from memory, but the zingers, hiccups and flubs endure — often with lasting consequences.

We asked NBC News' political reporters and contributors to share some of their favorite moments from presidential debate history. As NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd pointed out, it’s not necessarily the substance of the answers, but the delivery by which the candidates are being judged.

Here are a few of the best:

Dukakis' Death Penalty Death Knell

Sometimes it's not what you say, it's how you say it. Michael Dukakis' response in 1988 to a very personally framed question on the death penalty helped sink his chances:

The Debate Answer that Ruined Dukakis in 1988 2:10

Reagan Vows to not Make Age an Issue

When his age became an issue in the second 1984 presidential debate against a younger Walter Mondale, Ronald Reagan found a way to use it to his advantage:

The Ronald Reagan Mic Drop Moment at the 1984 Debate 2:08

'Please Proceed, Governor'

A strong moderator and a quick fact check can make all the difference, as when Candy Crowley set the record straight on Romney's charge against President Obama's Benghazi remarks:

'Can You Say That a Little Louder, Candy'? 1:53

It's Not What You Said...

...It's the way you said it. Richard Nixon wasn't quite ready for prime-time during the 1960 presidential debate against Jack Kennedy. Nixon appeared sick and sweaty; Kennedy cool and collected:

Looks Matter in the First Televised Presidential Debate 0:45

Nixon Solves the Sweating Debacle

A heater can be your best friend or worst enemy during debates. Luckily, Richard Nixon’s camp made sure the heater was on their side during the second Kennedy-Nixon debate:

Chris Matthews Shares Secrets From Behind the Scenes of the Second Kennedy-Nixon Debate 1:13

Romney Pulls Out 'Binders Full of Women'

Sometimes, you just can’t fight the memes. Mitt Romney’s response in 2012 to a question on the wage disparity between men and women taught him how his words now belonged to the Internet:

'Binders Full of Women' 1:05