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8 People Who Played Presidential Candidates in Mock Debates

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You’ve probably heard that Barack Obama recruited Massachusetts senator and ketchup-magnate-by-marriage John Kerry to play Mitt Romney in mock debates. But Obama certainly isn’t the first president to fine-tune his skills through pseudo smackdowns. In fact, almost every presidential candidate in recent years has hired a surrogate sparring partner. Here are 8 all-star stand-ins and the politicians they portrayed.

1. Television Monitor as Jimmy Carter (1976)

Gerald Ford staged the first full-scale practice sessions in 1976. Ford had a few different people play his opponent, Jimmy Carter. But when a human sparring partner wasn’t around, Ford used a television monitor to play sound bites from Carter’s interview with Meet the Press. Mock panelists asked the monitor questions, and Carter’s pre-taped response would play back. To practice looking confident, Ford was supposed to gaze forcefully at his TV opponent during the replays.

2. Samuel Popkin as Ronald Reagan (1980)

At first, Jimmy Carter thought the notion of practicing with a “dummy opponent” was nuts. But the incumbent president softened his stance when he was forced to square off with show business veteran Ronald Reagan.

Carter hired political science professor Sam Popkin to play ol’ Dutch. Popkin studied Reagan’s rhetoric extensively and devised a strategy memo for outwitting him called “Popping Balloons.” Popkin told Carter if he couldn’t beat one of Reagan’s stories with a fact, he should try to beat it with another story. He also tried to familiarize Carter with his opponent’s folksy oratory style by recycling old Reagan speeches during debates.

3. David Stockman as Jimmy Carter/Walter Mondale (1980 and 1984)

Eager to master the art of full-scale debate rehearsal, Ronald Reagan had his garage converted into a professional quality television studio and hired congressman David Stockman to stand in for Jimmy Carter. The practice proved helpful, helping to familiarize the veteran actor with a debate format . . . and landing Stockman a job as budget director once Reagan was elected.

But in 1984, all that practice backfired. Reagan’s team believed Mondale would be a scrappy fighter, so they encouraged Stockman to really bully the president during mock debates. Stockman’s brow beatings destroyed the president’s confidence – to the point where his wife asked, “What have you done to my husband?” After a rough first debate, the Reagan campaign staged a pep rally at the president’s Kansas City hotel to boost his spirits before the second face-off. Reagan rebounded – and ended up winning 49 out of the 50 states.

4. Fred Thompson as Bill Clinton (1996)

Bob Dole hired former actor Fred Thompson to fill the shoes of Bill Clinton. A fellow Southerner, Thompson could replicate Clinton’s raspy drawl with astounding accuracy. And when it came to attacking Dole, Thompson didn’t pull any punches. “I tried to beat him down!” Thompson once told NPR. “If you can generate a bit of hostility, that’s a good thing.”

5. Bob Barnett as George H.W. Bush/ Dick Cheney (Many Times)

This Washington D.C. attorney played a Republican rival in five campaigns – filling in for George H.W. Bush in 1984, 1988, and 1992 and Dick Cheney in 2000 and 2004.

Barnett’s relentless baiting drove his mock opponents crazy. During his 1984 practice debates with Geraldine Ferraro, the vice presidential hopeful often became so irritated with Barnett that she walked over and slugged him on the arm. And after grueling 1992 debate preparations, Bill Clinton said, “I was just so glad I didn’t have to debate [him]. The election might have turned out differently.”

6. Judd Gregg as Al Gore/John Kerry (2000 and 2004)

New Hampshire senator Judd Gregg acted as Democratic doppelgangers in 2000 and 2004. For Gregg, playing Gore was a piece of cake. He claimed that the then-vice president was mechanical, scientific, and uber-predictable. But he had a tougher time playing Kerry. He maintained that the notoriously flip-flopping senator was hard to pin down because he went in a few different directions when he spoke.

But regardless of whom he was playing, Gregg’s job was to push George Bush’s buttons – and he was good at it. On one occasion in 2000, Gregg’s relentless bushwhacking (no pun intended) sent the presidential hopeful over the edge. Bush became flustered and started angrily repeating the same points in a raised voice. Worried that the pseudo sparring match had gotten too real, an aide stopped the debate to let things cool down.

7. Greg Craig as George W. Bush/John McCain (2004 and 2008)

In the past two elections, Democrats called on Washington lawyer (and former White House counsel) Greg Craig to prep presidential hopefuls to face-off with Republican rivals. Craig was no stranger to controversial debates – he won an acquittal for John W. Hinckley, Jr., the man who attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan. Moreover, Craig directed the team defending Clinton against impeachment following the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The powerhouse attorney was no Dana Carvey; he didn’t mimic his doppelgangers’ body language or accents. Instead, he focused on suffocating his pseudo-opponents with airtight logic.

8. Rob Portman as Half the Democratic Party (1996-)

For years, Ohio congressman Rob Portman has been the GOP’s go-to guy for getting inside the heads of Democratic rivals. Since 1996, Portman’s filled the shoes of Al Gore, Joe Lieberman, John Edwards, Barack Obama, and even Hillary Clinton.

Portman had an uncanny ability to capture the mannerisms of the candidates – right down to subtle body movements and vocal pauses. Republicans claimed he magically “became Barack Obama” during the 2008 practice debates with John McCain. Rick Lazio, who ran against Clinton for the Senate, remarked on his astounding ability to channel the first lady – even without a wig or makeup. And Joe Lieberman jokingly referred to Portman as his alter ego. Lieberman once said, "I've tried on occasion when I couldn't make it to a speaking engagement to send Rob Portman."

And Three All-Star Vice-Presidential Stand-ins...

Jennifer Granholm as Sarah Palin

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Tina Fey and Julianne Moore aren't the only women to portray Sarah Palin onstage. Michigan governor and fellow beauty pageant winner Jennifer Granholm helped Joe Biden practice debating the Alaska governor in 2008. Granholm studied Palin nonstop. To get in character, she wore glasses and a red suit. But did she go the extra mile and try her hand at that famously folksy Alaska accent? You betcha.

Randy Scheunemann as Joe Biden

To prep Palin for the 2008 vice presidential debates, neoconservative lobbyist Randy Scheunemann played Joe Biden. He really got into character – so much so that Palin could barely keep a straight face. Scheunemann peppered his performance with frequent mentions of “God love ya” and “literally.” He also copied Biden’s loquacious speaking style, going on rants about everything from gun control to his own mother.

But while Palin was certainly convinced by her faux-opponent’s performance, she kept accidentally calling him “O’Biden.” That’s when Scheunemann suggested that she take a folksy approach and start calling him “Joe.”

Dennis Eckart as Dan Quayle

Former Ohio Congressman Dennis Eckart had a lot in common with the then-vice president. Both were young, telegenic Midwesterners who loved golf. Eckart joked that he got into character by spending hours at the Congressional Country Club. Once he even went through a mock debate with a golf tee stuck behind his ear. Eckart, a former college actor, said he loved “getting into the head” of people he played. But when reporters asked him what he found inside Quayle’s head, he answered, “Room to maneuver.”

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10 Facts About Ernesto 'Che' Guevara
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Far more than just an image on a dorm room wall, Ernesto Guevara was a 20th-century Renaissance man. He was a doctor, political philosopher, diplomat, military strategist, and best-selling author who challenged the capitalist status quo with words and gunfire.

Born into middle-class comfort on June 14, 1928, Guevara was introduced to left-wing theories at a young age, thanks to his parents and the radical books in their home library. His Marxist thinking was also profoundly shaped by his encounters with abject poverty throughout South America, and he would eventually convert those thoughts to revolutionary actions in Cuba and beyond. Here are 10 facts about the man known as Che.

1. HE WAS PART IRISH.

Che’s great-great-great-great-grandfather was Patrick Lynch, who emigrated from Ireland to what is now Argentina in the 1700s. His father, Ernesto Guevara Lynch, has been quoted as saying, "The first thing to note is that in my son's veins flowed the blood of the Irish rebels." The other side of the family was Basque; according to Guevara’s brother Juan, their father was drawn to the rebellious elements of both sides of the family tree, but particularly appreciated the Irish love of a good party. In 2017, Ireland’s postal service, An Post, issued a stamp commemorating Che using Dublin artist Jim Fitzpatrick’s iconic red, black, and white image of the revolutionary.

2. HE WAS PASSIONATE ABOUT PLAYING RUGBY.

His parents were members of the San Isidro rugby club, for which Che played scrum-half in his youth. In 1951 he published his own magazine dedicated to the sport, called Tackle. The only problem with playing? He suffered from asthma his entire life. His father tried to convince him to quit the sport because of it, but Che responded, “I love rugby. Even if it kills me one day, I am happy to play it.”

3. HE LOVED POETRY.

Because of his asthma, Che was home-schooled, and it was there that he was first introduced to the poetry he would come to love for the rest of his life. At his death, he was carrying a weathered green book of poetry that he’d copied by hand, featuring work from Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo, and Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén. He was also a fan of Walt Whitman, John Keats, and more.

4. HIS NICKNAME COMES FROM A DIALECTICAL TIC.

Short, sharp, and memorable, Che is also an Argentine interjection that Guevara used so often his Cuban compatriots branded him with it. It’s a filler word, something like saying dude, mate, or pal. If he’d been Canadian, his nickname might have been Eh.

5. HE STUDIED MEDICINE.

Influenced by his struggles with asthma, Che enrolled in Buenos Aires University to study medicine in 1948. After graduating as a physician in 1953, he did an internship at Mexico City's General Hospital, where he carried out allergy research, but left in 1955 to join Fidel and Raul Castro’s Cuban Revolution as their doctor.

6. TWO TREKS SHAPED HIS EARLY POLITICAL IDENTITY.

During his time studying medicine, Che embarked on two trips through South America—a solo journey in 1950 on a motorized bicycle and an 8000-mile trek that started on a vintage motorcycle with friend Alberto Granado in 1952. On these trips, he saw intense poverty and the exploitation of workers and farmers. After witnessing “the shivering, flesh-and-blood victims of capitalist exploitation,” Che was determined to fight the system. His account of his second journey, first published in Cuba in 1993 as The Motorcycle Diaries, became a New York Times bestseller and a critically acclaimed 2004 film.

7. A COUP HARDENED HIS VIOLENT STANCE AGAINST THE UNITED STATES AS AN IMPERIALIST POWER.

Che settled in Guatemala in 1953 partially because he approved of the way the country’s president, Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, had redistributed land to peasants—a move that angered the country's elite and the powerful U.S.-based United Fruit Company. That same year, a CIA-backed effort forced the democratically elected Arbenz from power. A ruling junta elected the right-wing Castillo Armas to the presidency, and then restored United Fruit Company’s land. Che was radicalized by the event, and it was the first time he participated directly in revolutionary activities, fighting with a small group of rebels (unsuccessfully) to retake Guatemala City.

8. HE WAS HEAD OF THE NATIONAL BANK IN CUBA.

Che Guevara during the battle of Santa Clara
Che Guevara during the battle of Santa Clara in Cuba
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Following Castro’s revolution, Guevara was given important positions related to finance and the economy, and named President of the National Bank in 1959. That gave him an unparalleled amount of power to direct the country’s economy, which he used to try to reduce Cuba's dependence on sugar exports and trade with the United States in particular. He also made his disdain toward money itself known by signing Cuba’s notes simply as Che.

9. HE ASSISTED IN ARMED REVOLUTIONS IN THREE COUNTRIES.

Che is most famous for his central role in the Cuban revolution, but he also worked to export their model to other countries. In the cases of Bolivia and the Congo, that involved engaging directly in armed revolution in the mid-1960s. He also traveled to the United States, and addressed the United Nations in 1964 in an hour-long speech that criticized the UN itself as well as the United States’ treatment of black Americans.

10. HIS REMAINS WERE MISSING UNTIL 1997.

Che was captured by CIA-assisted Bolivian troops in 1967 while trying to foment revolution in Bolivia, and was executed the next day on the orders of that country's president. They cut off the revolutionary's hands post-mortem to prove his identity before dropping his body in a mass grave with other guerrilla fighters. It wasn’t until 28 years later that Bolivian General Mario Vargas told biographer Jon Lee Anderson that Che’s body was buried near the airstrip in Vallegrande, prompting a massive search. A corpse was uncovered in July 1997 that experts said matched Che's description, in part thanks to its lack of hands and the pipe tobacco found in a jacket pocket. Che was reburied in Santa Clara, Cuba, at the base of a giant statue depicting his likeness.

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Why Macedonia Is Getting a New Name
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For the first time since becoming an independent nation in 1991, the Republic of Macedonia is rebranding itself. As CNN reports, the Balkan nation will soon be called the Republic of Northern Macedonia, a name change that will hopefully help to heal the country's tense relationship with Greece.

Macedonia adopted its former title after gaining independence from Yugoslavia 27 years ago, and the name immediately caused conflict. Its neighbor to the south, Greece has a region of its own called Macedonia. Greece claimed that Macedonia's name suggested a sense of entitlement to territory that belonged to them and took it as an insult.

Even decades later, the bad blood stirred by the decision remained. Greece's issue with the name has even prevented Macedonia from joining the European Union and NATO. The new title, which was agreed upon by Macedonian prime minister Zoran Zaev and Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras on June 11, is meant to be a step towards better relations between the two countries.

"Our bid in the compromise is a defined and precise name, the name that is honorable and geographically precise—Republic of Northern Macedonia," Prime Minister Zaev said at a press conference, as reported by Reuters. Macedonia will hold a popular vote to officially change the name in a referendum later this year.

A country changing its name isn't uncommon, but reasons for the revision vary. In April 2018, the country formerly known Swaziland announced it would be called eSwatini, the name it went by prior to British colonization.

[h/t CNN]

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