The First Presidential Debate: Trampled Time Limits, Zingers (?) and Poor Big Bird

No, that wasn’t a really long, Gloria-lacking Modern Family episode you watched Wednesday evening. It’s election season, kids, and the presidential race is officially on.

The first presidential debate of the year brought President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney together at the University of Denver’s Magness Arena. NewsHour‘s Jim Lehrer moderated a 90-minute conversation centered on domestic policy in which the candidates made their points, lobbed their well practiced zingers (such as they were) and maybe even won themselves some new supporters.

At TVLine, we watched to see who delivered the night’s best lines. Below is our fair, balanced, non-partisan take on the event’s top moments, strictly from an entertainment point of view. My fellow Americans, here’s your civic duty: Read through our list, take our poll and then hit the comments to make your voice heard! In closing: God bless you, and God bless TVLine Nation.


• Called First Lady Michelle “Sweetie” as he mentioned that it was their anniversary (aww) and promised her that “a year from now, we will not be celebrating it in front of 40 million people.”

• Took a dig at Celebrity Apprentice‘s head honcho by saying that, under Romney’s definition of millionaires and billionaires, “Donald Trump is a small business. Now, I know Donald Trump doesn’t like to think of himself as a small anything, but that’s how you define small businesses if you’re getting business income.”

• Rolled with his opponent’s mention of Obamacare, a term Romney said he used “with all respect.” The prez genially replied: “I like it.”

• During a discussion of Medicare, acknowledged that the audience’s attention might’ve drifted during the less-than-thrilling event by directly addressing the viewers at home: “If you’re 54 or 55, you might want to listen, ’cause this will affect you.”


• Wished the Obamas a happy anniversary and got a laugh with his follow-up: “I’m sure this was the most romantic place you could imagine — here with me.”

• Simultaneously argued Obama’s take on his tax plan and painted himself as a down-to-earth dad: “Look, I’ve got five boys. I’m used to people saying something that’s not always true, but just keep on repeating it and ultimately hoping I’ll believe it.”

• Seemed to be genuinely enjoying himself when Lehrer admonished the candidates that they were “way over” the first 15 minutes. “It’s fun, isn’t it?”

• Alienated Downton Abbey fans when he said funding for PBS would be one of his first cuts. “I like PBS, I love Big Bird. Actually like you, too,” he told Lehrer (whose NewsHour airs on PBS). “But I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for.”