How Republicans Lose Every Debate – Even with Themselves
There have been many discussions of “how the Republicans lost the 2012 presidential election”. While I don’t claim to know the reason, I do know that debates hindered their cause.
In fact, I make the case that the Republicans lost debates, even when they debated each other – during the primaries!
Here is why:
There were two serious errors made during the primary debates. The first error made the second one much worse.
- They hired Democrats from the media to moderate the debates. Therefore:
- Questions were on topics which put Republicans in a bad light.
- The questions were always framed in the way Democrats look at issues (e.g. a question on the environment would frame it as “harm to the environment”, not in terms of “cost/benefit trade-off”.)
- The questioners could ask questions solely for the purpose of getting Republicans on record saying things that could be used against them in the general election campaign.
The Republican approach would be the equivalent have the Democrats asking Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity to moderate their primary debates. Can you imagine them being that stupid?
- The Republicans decided to make the primaries a battle of who could say the worst things about each other. This, of course, provided no help to the candidate in the general election and instead provided fodder for the Democratic opponent’s campaign.
Amazingly, after primaries in which Republicans savaged each other, the party then choose to say nothing negative about Mr. Obama in the general election!
Perhaps, the debates should have been an attempt by each candidate to show that he/she was the most capable of arguing against the president and his policies. There was no reason to mention other Republicans – let the voters decide who best demonstrates they are ready to take on Mr. Obama!
Of course, this second error is amplified by the first – Democratic moderators are all too willing to encourage Republicans to tear each other to pieces.
General Election Debate
Year after year, Republicans fall for the trap of having Democratic voting media people moderate debates. In 2012, in the first debate, the moderator Jim Lehrer took an unusual approach and let the candidates speak at length. Thus the debate was driven by the candidates and not the moderator. Mr. Romney experienced a significant poll “bump” after this debate.
But in other debates, especially the one moderated by Candy Crowley of CNN, the moderator controlled the debate more carefully.
The questions remains: why do Republicans continue to allow themselves to be in debates where the questions come from their opponent?
A Better Way
The method of selecting moderators assumes the myth that journalists are “impartial”. This is nonsense. They are thinking, feeling human beings who have very definite and usually well known opinions!
A better format which would also make the debates far more interesting would be:
- There are two questioners, one appointed by each candidate.
- Each candidate gets half of his/her questions from the “friendly” questioner and half from the opponent’s questioner.
This format would allow “softball” questions allowing the candidate to speak to his/her strengths and what they perceive as important issues. Plus it would allow the public to observe how well a candidate can speak to sharp, insightful criticism of their qualifications, actions, and policy proposals.