5 Memorable Vice Presidential Debate Moments

They may not change voters' opinions but they do make history

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. reacts to Republican vice presidential candidate Paul D. Ryan during their debate in 2012. (Win McNamee/Getty Images file photo)
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. reacts to Republican vice presidential candidate Paul D. Ryan during their debate in 2012. (Win McNamee/Getty Images file photo)
Posted October 4, 2016 at 12:26pm

Vice presidential debates are remembered like a sports highlight reel, with each candidate’s best and worst moments on display for the nation to relive forever. They’re rarely remembered as being pivotal in making up voters’ minds.

As Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine takes on his Republican counterpart Mike Pence, here’s a look back on five of the more memorable vice presidential debates in past elections.

2012: Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Paul D. Ryan

In the middle of a hotly contested presidential race, the vice presidential candidates took to the stage for a smile-off — except Biden’s looked more like a grimace as he reacted theatrically to most of Ryan’s responses.

When he wasn’t chewing the scenery in the background, Biden reacted to the Wisconsin congressman’s answers and assertions with his trademark “Malarkey,” and suggested the future House speaker was “full of stuff.”

2008: Sarah Palin and Biden

In Biden’s first vice presidential debate, he was deemed the winner by a CNN poll. But the poll also showed that viewers thought Palin did better than they expected. 

Palin got in what might have been her most memorable line at the start of the debate when she shook Biden’s hand and asked if she could call him “Joe.” She later explained that she had called him O-Biden in the past and wanted to avoid making that gaffe during the live debate. 

1992: Al Gore, Dan Quayle and James Stockdale

“Who am I and why am I here?” were Stockdale’s opening words. A retired Navy admiral and former Vietnam prisoner of war, Stockdale was the running mate for independent presidential candidate Ross Perot. While the line was intended to be self-deprecating about his lack of political experience, it gave the impression of confusion.

Stockdale was largely pushed to the side as Democrat Gore and incumbent Republican Vice President Quayle went at it for most of the debate over issues of trust, much like this year’s presidential race.

With Stockdale pushed to the sidelines of the brawl, moderator Hal Bruno asked if he wanted to jump in.

“I would like to get in,” Stockdale responded. “I feel like I’m an observer at a pingpong game.”

1988: Lloyd Bentsen and Quayle

To show the impact that vice presidential debates have, Lloyd Bentsen, a senior member of the Senate, delivered a knockout blow against Quayle, then an Indiana senator, who had already been dogged about his youth and inexperience.

Addressing those issues, Quayle pitched one right into Bentsen’s wheelhouse, comparing his age to that of John F. Kennedy when he was elected president.

With a withering dismissal, Bentsen responded, “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

The George H.W. Bush-Quayle ticket won 40 states in a landslide over the Michael Dukakis-Bentsen ticket.

1984: George H.W. Bush and Geraldine Ferraro 

Bush faced off against the first-ever female major-party vice presidential nominee, Democratic Rep. Geraldine Ferraro in 1984.

Seasoned debater Bush was scolded afterward for being condescending to his opponent by offering to help her with a foreign policy issue.

“Let me help you with the difference, Ms. Ferraro, between Iran and the embassy in Lebanon,” he said. 

Ferraro landed a solid counterpunch by responding: “Let me first of all say that I almost resent, Vice President Bush, your patronizing attitude that you have to teach me about foreign policy.”