President Donald Trump’s debate style goes unmatched compared to any past presidential candidates. In past elections, contenders have typically traded polite jabs and often recited a rehearsed seconds-long speech without real genuineness.
Trump, however, is different. He is unafraid to call things as he sees it. He does not hesitate to point out an opponent’s baggage. His candor is foreign to career politicians, bringing record viewership to programs airing his debates.
With the first presidential debate of the 2024 cycle occurring Wednesday, the forum is unlikely to garnish the viewership seen in recent years simply because the 45th president will not be attending.
Trump currently leads his fellow primary contenders by 46 points, according to the latest poll from CBS News, making it more hurtful than helpful to get on the debate stage at this moment.
However, many of Trump’s past viral debate moments continue to live on in memory. While there are too many of his best instances to count, here is a brief look at some of his best presidential debate moments:
6. Trump raises his hand
Trump and nine other Republicans attended the first primary debate of the 2016 election hosted by Fox News on Aug. 6, 2015. The political outsider led the entire field of 17 GOP candidates by double digits before the start of the debate.
Moderator Bret Baier began the debate by asking candidates if they would pledge their support to the eventual winner of the GOP nomination and whether they would abstain from running as an independent for the general election in order to prevent a split ticket that would likely result in a win for Hillary Clinton.
From the start of this first question, Trump immediately portrayed himself as an outsider. He was the only candidate on the stage to raise his hand, telling the audience that he would not blindly support an unqualified nominee ahead of time.
“I cannot say I have to respect the person that—if it’s not me—the person that wins,” Trump said as the other candidates glared with jaws open and wide eyes.
“I want to win as the Republican. I want to run as the Republican nominee,” he added.
Ironically, former Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who pledged on stage to support whoever won the Republican nomination, broke their promises and did not back Trump in 2016.
5. “You’re a tough guy, Jeb…”
In 2016, Jeb Bush was one of Donald Trump’s most ardent primary opponents. A son of the Bush family dynasty, he was largely viewed as a shoo-in for the nomination. Thus, Trump began his campaign to take down the anointed one.
Trump frequently criticized the former governor for his so-called “low-energy” while tying him to the controversial Iraq war launched by his brother, President George W. Bush. He also tied Jeb Bush to the political establishment, a difficult obstacle for the governor to overcome.
In one exchange from a primary debate hosted by CNN in Dec. 2015, Bush clapped back at Trump, saying that the political outsider would have a go of dealing with ISIS or Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. However, Trump quickly mocked Bush for his supposed lack of toughness and low support among voters.
Bush: “This is a tough business to run for president.
Trump: “Oh I know, you’re a tough guy, Jeb.”
Bush: “And we need to have a leader that is—”
Trump: “Real tough!”
Bush: “You’re never gonna be president of the United States by insulting your way to the presidency!”
Trump: “I’m at 42 [percent] and you’re at three, so, so far I’m doing better. So far I’m doing better. You know, you started off over here, Jeb. You’re moving over further and further. Pretty soon you’re gonna be off the end I guarantee you.”
Trump later soared to the nomination and, ultimately, the presidency. Bush, meanwhile, suspended his campaign just two months after this debate after dismal performances in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.
4. “Joe got three and a half million dollars from Russia”
During the second presidential debate between President Trump and Joe Biden in 2020, moderator Kristen Welker asked the two how they would prevent election interference from foreign entities, such as Russia.
Biden immediately began reciting the debunked story that Russia was interfering in the election to help elect Trump, also saying that the 45th president was “unwilling to take on Putin.”
Trump then slammed his opponent for the alleged millions of dollars he received from Russia that reportedly occurred when Biden was vice president.
“Joe got three and a half million dollars from Russia,” Trump reiterated. “And it came through Putin, because he was very friendly with the former mayor of Moscow and it was the mayor of Moscow’s wife. He got three and a half million dollars.”
Trump continued, “Your family got three and a half million dollars and you know someday, you’re gonna have to explain — why did you get three and a half? I never got any money from Russia. I don’t get money from Russia.”
Biden then denied Trump’s accusations, responding, “I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life,” and later criticizing the president for not releasing his tax returns.
Trump maintained course and continued to press Biden on his alleged bribery scandal.
“I don’t make money from China, you do. I don’t make money from Ukraine, you do. I don’t make money from Russia. You made three and a half million dollars, Joe, and your son gave you,” said Trump.
“They even have a statement that we have to give 10 percent to the big man,” he said. “You’re the big man, I think. I don’t know, maybe you’re not. But you’re the big man, I think. Your son said that we have to give 10 percent to the big man.”
Ultimately, the media swept the alleged Biden bribery scheme under the rug during the 2020 election. However, investigators have recently reported that Joe Biden allegedly did have involvement with his son Hunter Biden’s overseas business dealings while serving as vice president, as per RSBN.
This supposed corruption has prompted members of the U.S. House, including Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to call for impeachment investigations into Biden, which, if successful, could remove him from office.
3. “All your friends take the same advantage that I do…”
During the second presidential debate on Oct. 9, 2016, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump traded jabs on the tax code,
Clinton had slammed Donald Trump for taking advantage of the tax code to pay less federal income tax, something that a lot of other candidates would have had a hard time defending.
Trump acknowledged that he was “smart” to have taken advantage of the tax code but said Clinton would never change these loopholes if elected president.
“I understand the tax code better than anybody that’s ever run for president,” said Trump, who then accused Clinton of refusing to change the tax code because she “has friends that want all of these provisions.”
“[Hillary Clinton] complains that Donald Trump took advantage of the tax code. Why didn’t she change it? Why didn’t you change it when you were a senator? The reason you didn’t is because that all your friends take the same advantage that I do, and I do,” said Trump.
“You have provisions in the tax code that frankly we could change, but you wouldn’t change it because all of these people give you the money so you can take negative ads on Donald Trump,” he told Clinton during the debate.
“If she had a problem, for 30 years she’s been doing this, Anderson,” Trump said to debate moderator Anderson Cooper. “She doesn’t do anything about anything other than talk. With her, it’s all talk and no action.”
2. “Only Rosie O’Donnell”
Moderator Megyn Kelly had asked candidates questions regarding their so-called “electability” during the first 2016 Fox News GOP primary debate, particularly pressing Trump over his past “disparaging comments” he made about women.
“You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals,” Kelly said to Trump.
“Only Rosie O’Donnell,” Trump jokingly responded, his comment brandishing loud cheers and laughs from the audience.
Kelly disagreed with Trump, questioning whether his past tweets and comments from the “Celebrity Apprentice” showed that he had the “temperament of a man we should elect as president” and whether he was part of the “war on women.”
“I think the big problem that this country has is being politically correct,” responded Trump. “I’ve been challenged by so many people and I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness, and to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either.”
He continued, “This country is in big trouble. We don’t win anymore. We lose to China, we lose to Mexico—both in trade and at the border—we lose to everybody. And frankly, what I say—and often times it’s fun—it’s kidding. We have a good time. What I say is what I say, and honestly Megyn, if you don’t like it, I’m sorry.”
1. “Because you’d be in jail.”
Throughout the 2016 presidential cycle, Democrat Hillary Clinton’s alleged email deletion scandal had been the focus of many Republicans—including Donald Trump, who promised to appoint a special prosecutor to look into the situation if he was elected president.
During the second presidential debate moderated by Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz on Oct. 9, 2016, Clinton continued to deny any wrongdoing regarding her server and even called upon the audience to fact-check Trump.
“So I expect we’ll have millions more fact-checking because—you know it is—it’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country,” said Clinton.
“Because you’d be in jail,” Trump responded, which was soon followed by cheers from the debate audience.
Ultimately, Hillary Clinton was unable to overcome the email scandal, particularly after former FBI Director James Comey opened an investigation into her email situation just days before the election. She then suffered a historic loss to Trump.