Peter Spiegel, US Managing Editor
This is how I’ve been preparing for tonight’s event: re-watching old Saturday Night Live parodies of previous presidential debates. Here are my top five:
— Chevy Chase as Jerry Ford —
He did nothing to try to look like the president, but Chase’s depiction of Ford did as much to solidify the incumbent’s image as a slightly dim jock (Ford played football at the University of Michigan) than Ford’s own miscues (see above). My favourite is when Chase-as-Ford is asked a complicated question about unemployment from Jane Curtain, to which he responds: “It was my understanding that there would be no math.”
— Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz reprise Bush-Dukakis —
Much has been written about Carvey’s depiction of George HW Bush, an impression that Bush himself eventually warmed to. What I had forgotten was how funny Lovitz was as Dukakis. The whole debate (featuring Tom Hanks as the late ABC News presenter Peter Jennings) is hysterical, but my favourite moment is when Lovitz-as-Dukakis is asked to respond to a fumbling Carvey-as-Bush word salad: “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy.”
— Darrell Hammond as Al Gore —
Much like Carvey’s take on Bush, this parody is mostly remembered as one of Will Ferrell’s first outings as Bush the Younger (remember “strategery”? This is where it was coined). But Hammond’s eye-rolling, deep-sighing Gore is brutal, particularly for his repeated and overly-earnest invocation of “lockbox”, one of Gore’s central deficit-reduction policies. It helped doom Gore.
— Dana Carvey as Ross Perot —
The amazing thing here is that Carvey plays both Perot and Bush père thanks to a bit of pre-taping, with the late Phil Hartman as Bill Clinton. For me, the most memorable moment is at the very end when Carvey-as-Bush and Hartman-as-Clinton look over at Perot, and you see what’s on their minds: one of the Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz.
— Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump —
The only reason I don’t rank this one higher is that Baldwin was funnier as Trump in other, later bits. Still, this debate sketch with Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton is Baldwin’s debut. There’s no single moment that stands out in Baldwin’s bravura performance here, though given recent revelations about Trump’s taxes, the exchange where McKinnon-as-Clinton accuses Baldwin-as-Trump of “never paying taxes in his life” reverberates four years later. Baldwin’s response? McKinnon is getting “warmer”.
We’ll have to save Tina Fey’s depiction of Sarah Palin for next week’s vice-presidential debate. Enjoy!