The third Republican debate was a spectacle. It was a showcase of media bias, gotcha questions, and arrogant liberals. It was so bad, that the candidates circled wagons and skirmished with the moderators rather than each other – to the delight of the audience.
I thought the winners were Marco Rubio (on substance), Ted Cruz (for the quote of the evening), and Dr Ben Carson (for the calm handling of hostile moderators). The second tier of finishers included Chris Christie, Carla Fiorina, John Kasich, and Donald Trump – all of whom had good performances, just didn’t stand out. Non-performers were Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, and Jeb Bush. The loser, however, was CNBC.
The problem with all of the debates thus far is over population – there are just too many candidates sharing the same forum. And that was true of CNBC’s set up as well, even if the moderators had actually done their jobs of asking relevant questions. I have my own plan for structuring this year’s remaining debates.
Pay Real Clear Politics to publish their averages of the polls one week before the next debate. The top six get to the main stage (Trump, Carson, Rubio, Bush, Cruz, and Fiorina would have made the cut for CNBC’s). In my opinion, Santorum, Jindal and Pataki – none of whom is getting even one percent in RCP’s most recent averages – should drop out (or at very least, not clutter up any future debate for which they are still below 1%). Huckabee, Paul, Kasich, Christie (all above 2.0%) and Graham (at exactly 1.0%) should get the children’s table. This would give us two reasonably sized debates that could actually serve the voters by giving each candidate the opportunity to sell their views, assuming the moderators can ask relevant questions.
Ted Cruz mentioned another thing that should be considered – why have moderators in a Republican primary contest who have no intention of ever voting in a Republican primary? This isn’t the general election cycle yet – the function of these debates is supposed to be to assist Republicans and Democrats in choosing a presidential candidate. We know we’re going to get sandbagged in the debates during general election season, we shouldn’t have to put up with it during the primaries. I am just as opposed to having conservatives moderate Democratic primary debates (as if that could happen).
The interesting result of this week’s spectacle is that it backfired. The bias was so pronounced, the questions so malicious, the moderators so smug, that even the audience (in flaming left Boulder CO) turned on them. CNBC managed to unite Republicans on stage, and the evening devolved into a reality show of the candidates against the moderators. “Even in New Jersey, what you’re doing is called ‘rude,’ ” is how Chris Christie put it.
That’s my rant about the state of things. I know that nothing has really changed but the tactics. The Democrats have the ultimate SuperPAC (as Marco Rubio put it) in the legacy media. Has been for decades, and will be until the public gets tired of propaganda. We know this. Democrats are going to “fight dirty” – read: sidestep debate on the issues by vilifying the opposition ad hominem. We know this. Their bought and paid for voting blocs will turn out for them, and their ultimate grassroots infrastructure (unions) will drag people to the polls for them. We know this.
But this is the year that will truly test Republican viability. If this diversified field of Republican candidates can’t produce a successful challenge to Hillary Clinton – perhaps the most baggage-encumbered presidential candidate in history – then I would suggest that the Republican Party is finished as a reasonable purveyor of a viable theory of governance.