The CNBC debate was a disaster for the MSM. It exposed, for all to see, to a heretofore unimaginable degree, the blatant partisanship of the MSM. The candidates on stage were able to turn it to their advantage, launching memorable, and very successful attacks on the three moderators, and the format in general.
As a result, we are now seeing considerable shifting in the debate process. The candidates are moving to take more control, and in doing so are forcing the RNC to take a more aggressive approach in setting parameters for future debates.
All this is to the good. People are tuning in in record numbers, unlike the Democrat snoozefests and love-ins. This gives our candidates more exposure, and the chance to better get their message across.
However, all the above is but the prequel to the big kahuna, the general election presidential debates next fall.
Let’s take a quick look back, shall we? After all, as George Santayana reminds us, “if we forget the past we are doomed to repeat it.”
In 2012, the presidential debate moderators were Jim Lehrer, Candy Crowley, and Bob Schieffer. The VP debate moderator was Martha Raddatz.
In 2008, the presidential debate moderators were Jim Lehrer, Tom Brokaw, and Bob Schieffer. The VP debate moderator was Gwen Ifill.
In 2004, the presidential debate moderators were Jim Lehrer, Charles Gibson, and Bob Schieffer. The VP moderator was Gwen Ifill.
In 2000, Jim Lehrer moderated all three debates. The VP debate moderator was Bernard Shaw.
It’s interesting to note that with the exception of Raddatz, none of the moderators are still active. Yet the putative Democrat nominee, Hillary Clinton, ( she of their same generation) is still hard at it.
But far more importantly, given the huge increase in overt partisanship and bias displayed by the MSM in the last 7 years, Republicans should be asking themselves three questions:
1. If any of the moderators above were still active on air, would Republicans today accept any of them as a moderator? (None…OK, possibly, just possibly Lehrer)
2. Who would be an acceptable choice today? (I must admit, I’m struggling to come up with a name that the Democrats might agree to accept)
3. The BIG question. Can Republicans allow the same format to continue? Should they? By that I mean where the one moderator has sole control and discretion over what questions can be asked, what topics will be covered, and what, if any follow-up will be allowed. (Short answer: NO! HELL NO!!)
The Candy Crowley episode showed how just one instance of a moderator’s inappropriate and/or biased comment/intervention can dramatically affect the debate, and potentially, the election.
Therefore, I don’t think that Republicans can allow the potential for that type of abuse to continue. They cannot cede all that power to one individual, given the prevalent institutional bias of the MSM against Republicans.
Rather, Republicans should demand a complete change of format. Relegate the moderator to the role of timekeeper.
Hillary Clinton, unless she is indicted, will be the Democrat nominee. She is, to put it kindly, an awful debater. And especially so, if her Republican opponent is gifted and articulate; say a Rubio, Cruz, or a Fiorina; I submit that any of the gaggle of the usual moderators is conditioned to come to Clinton’s assistance..indeed would be incapable of not doing so.
Instead, Republicans should demand a real debate; along the style of Lincoln-Douglas. Relegate the moderator to a timekeeper’s role.
Let each candidate make a one minute opening statement, then take the gloves off. Alternate two minute segments. Let the two question each other, or attack each other’s record. Then, in turn, the next one can respond to the question, or the charges, or choose to ignore it and go onto something else.
This is bare knuckles debating. There is no place to hide. A candidate can ignore, duck, a question repeatedly, but doing so becomes readily apparent to all. And there is no “RESET” button on the debate stage.
One can imagine a [mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ] totally dismantling Hillary’s use of a home-brewed email server, and her responding that the “ARB cleared her of any wrongdoing,” and then her demanding more gun control.
As much as I would love to see this, I can’t see Hillary agreeing to it, for all the obvious reasons. However, her refusal would make for a superb commercial: “Mrs. Clinton, if you’re afraid to face (Cruz, Rubio, etc..)how will you confront Putin?”
However, making these demands early on, setting down markers as to what the GOP will and will not accept, will give Republicans leverage. The moderators will be put on notice that any, ANY abuse won’t be tolerated. Indeed, the GOP will now be able to insist on moderators that will be even handed. And instead of giving the moderators sole discretion as to questions, each candidate should be able to name one individual who will also be allowed to question each candidate. If Hillary Clinton wants to pick Rachel Maddow to ask her softball questions, let her. It won’t play in Peoria.
And a non-negotiable demand should be a set number of times that the two candidates will be allowed to question each other directly. This requirement should be the hill on which the RNC stands and dies.
Most importantly, the RNC, and the candidates themselves, should now be setting down markers as to how the general election debates will work; who will moderate, and under what rules.
Only by beginning to shape the debate battlefield NOW can we hope to achieve a semblance of an even playing field next fall.