So many clowns, so many crazies

Jeb! Bush Ben Carsen Chris Christie Ted Cruz Carly Fiorina Jim Gilmore Lindsey Graham Mike Huckabee Bobby Jindal John Kasich George Pataki Rand Paul Rick Perry Marco Rubio Rick Santorum Donald Trump Scott Walker
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.

| 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:

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.

CNBC moderators
Moderators of the CNBC debate

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.

Last updated on Apr 29, 2016

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