Caricatures by Paul Szep: Jeb! Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina. Jim Gilmore, who nobody bothers to caricature since he can't even qualify for the "undercard" debates. By Paul Szep: Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal. John Kasich by Chip Bok. By Paul Szep: George Pataki, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, Donald Trump, Scott Walker.
October 31, 2015 | We've now been treated to three "debates" with the Repugnican presidential candidates. Being Halloween it might be more apt to say we've been tricked to those debates.
The debates are a farce. The candidates seem to think they can say whatever they want and, if challenged, reassert their claim more confidently. (Carly Fiorina is a master of this technique.) Thus, the debates have lost touch with the reality-based world and proceed by assertion and reassertion rather than by reason. The fact checkers try to winnow out the lies, damned lies, and mis-used statistics, but they can't do it in real time, so their analysis is easily ignored by the campaigns.
The remaining candidates (Scott Walker and Rick Perry have dropped out) are a motley crew:
Jeb Bush - Poor Jeb! His heart really isn't in this and his distaste for the process is palpable. In the last debate he tried to skewer his Florida rival, Marco Rubio, by criticizing his truancy from his day job in the Senate. But when Rubio struck back with a trenchant retort, Bush was left standing there with nothing to say. For this campaign and these rivals, he needs street-fighting skills, and he just doesn't have them.
Ben Carson - Carson is a mild-manner idiot-savant with a distinguished career as a doctor. As a politician he is given to saying the loopiest, most absurd things, and has been revealed as a bit of a huckster besides. Having promoted questionable supplements from Mannatech, he dismissed questions about his relationship with that dicey company as "total propaganda." It's his moment in the sun, but this too shall pass. Remember Herman (9-9-9) Cain?
Chris Christie - Christie is trying so hard to be relevant, but he doesn't seem to realize that he is toast. People read the papers and watch the news. They know about the bridge closures, the bond-rating downgrades, the continuing despair of the hurricane Sandy victims, the obvious graft and corruption around the Port Authority, etc.
Ted Cruz - Cruz is truly a snake in the grass. He's just lurking around waiting to scoop up the supporters of Trump and Carson when those two lose their cachet. Why someone so determined to destroy our government wants to be president of it is beyond comprehension.
Carly Fiorina - Carly talks a good line, as long as you don't look to closely at the facts. She thinks that because she is a woman she is the perfect opponent to the likely Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. But she'll never make it that far. Her boasts about being a successful businesswoman are hollow (if she was so successful, some other company would have snapped her up after being fired from HP - that didn't happen). And she seems to think that if she repeats the whole Planned Parenthood video lie enough times it will be true.
Jim Gilmore - "Jim Gilmore? I haven't seen him in any debates," you say. That's true. His poll numbers are so low he can't even qualify for the kids table debate. Yet, he keeps on keeping on.
Lindsey Graham - Graham and his pal John McCain have never seen a problem that couldn't be made worse by bombing the hell out of somebody. He has a one-note piano and the only song he knows how to play is Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Somebody - Anybody.
Mike Huckabee - Huckabee is another huckster hoping to win the accolades of the evangelicals, but that's not happening. Right now the evangelicals are enamored of Ben Carson.
Bobby Jindal - As far as I can tell he has been a disaster for the people of Louisiana. An utter ideologue can't be good for the country.
John Kasich - Kasich is trying to be the "adult in the room" but it's not working very well. He's frustrated by the rest of the field, but they could care less. And the mood among the electorate (at least the primary electorate) is all about pitchforks and firebrands.
George Pataki - Pataki was once governor of New York. Why he doesn't just enjoy his retirement is beyond me.
Rand Paul - Paul reached his peak months ago. Although he occasionally says something sensible, his Libertarian roots often lead him to utter nonsense. He's a bit brittle and defensive, not admirable qualities in a president.
Marco Rubio - Rubio is a sly dog. He's ruthlessly ambitious and intends to win the nomination by attrition if he can find a sugar daddy to support his campaign (at least one billionaire just threw his support to Rubio). When Bush exits (and he will exit) the race, Rubio will be able to lay claim to the "establishment" wing of the party, and he won't be totally unacceptable to the right wing either, since he does have some Tea Party roots. Right now there seems to be a concensus that he is most likely to end up the nominee, and he no doubt relishes the prospect of standing across from Hillary Clinton on the debate stage; youth and charisma versus experience and Clinton baggage.
Rick Santorum - Santorum needs to find some other hobby besides running for president. Although he "won" the Iowa caucuses last time, he seems to have no traction at all. He and his family should start a reality show for TV - the Sanctimonious Santorums.
Donald Trump - The Donald has defied all prognostication by staying at the head of the pack as long as he did. If you watch his more-recent rallies and appearances, he is learning how to be a real candidate instead fo a reality-TV star. He is being eclipsed by Carson right now, but I wouldn't count Trump out, not just yet.
Since this flotilla of fools can't make much headway by clarity of thoughtful proposals, they have resorted to the time-worn trope of attacking the media as a way to deflect attention from their own shortcomings. In the last debate, Cruz deftly skewered the moderators (much the way Gingrich did the last time around) and enough rabble has been roused that the RNC has cancelled any further debates on NBC or any of its subsidiaries. And in true Tea Party, burn the house down, fashion, the campaigns are supposed to meet Sunday to work out their demands about how debates should be run. Pointedly, they have not invited the RNC to attend the confab.
There's no doubt that there are legitimate questions about debates with a field this large. Fox set the precedent of a two-tier structure with the top 10 in prime time with everybody else who qualifies in an "undercard" or "kids table" debate in the afternoon. CNN and CNBC followed suit.
My own idea about how this should work is to emphasize the educational aspect of the debates. Give people the opportunity to know all the candidates, not just see the ones who already have name recognition. Thus, I would start a series of debates beginning with the lowest-polling candidates, four to six of them. They could begin with an opening statement of, say, 5-7 minutes, which they would have to release to the moderators and the other participants 24-hours before the debate. After the opening statements, questions from the moderators or other candidates would be entertained. Knowing there was time to be fact-checked, candidates might take more care to make a case rather than generate sound bytes. In the next of the series, I'd put the next tier of four to six candidates on the stage, reserving a spot for the one candidate from the previous debate who now had the best polling numbers. Eventually, you'd get to the big kahunas, but the gnomes of the field would have had a chance to shine and air their views. Republicans love free markets, right?
Each debate could still have a general theme: the economy, foreign affairs, the common welfare, etc.
Of course that would never happen because television channels want to host these things because they are counting on the big names in the debate to drive their ratings up. The preliminary rounds of my debate structure wouldn't draw as many viewers, but those who did watch might actually learn something. And a smarter electorate would be much, much better than what we have now.