Mr. President, Please Do the Nation a Favor and Kill These Stupid and Dysfunctional Presidential Debates

Last week, the allegedly non-partisan Commission on Presidential Debates announced that it had set the debate schedule for the 2020 Presidential campaign:

First presidential debate:
Tuesday, September 29, 2020
The University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN


Vice presidential debate:
Wednesday, October 7, 2020
The University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT

Second presidential debate:
Thursday, October 15, 2020
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

Third presidential debate:
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Belmont University, Nashville, TN

If President Trump is smart, he’ll tell the commission to roll the schedule up into a very tight little tube, slather it with Astroglide®, a put it in a warm, dark place for safekeeping.

I’m not a fan of the presidential debates. The whole focus is on superficiality. That’s why the candidates hire coaches and media advisers and joke writers for the process. The audience doesn’t watch to be enlightened–you have to be particularly dumb to have waited until a month before the election to educate yourself about the issues and candidates–it watches for the zingers.

“There you go again.”

“I’m paying for this microphone.”

“Where’s the beef.”

“You are no Jack Kennedy.”

These are funny but they are nothing more than a street corner game of “the dozens.”

As the audience has grown in size, the entire enterprise has taken on the air of a WWE event where the candidates are engaged in a verbal smackdown on their opponents to the cheers of their fans.

In the past couple of elections, the ugly specter of the celebrity pseudo-journalist has joined this political danse macabre, with the moderator injecting themselves into the debate–very much like the crooked refs who are a trope in WWE or the old Harlem Globetrotters shows.


If you are constantly carping on the superficiality of political discussions in America and sniveling about “tribalism,” then you should want this nonsense to stop.

Not only have the debates become toxic, but there is also a significant question as to whether they were ever anything else. The media likes to crow about its role in defeating its bête noire, Richard Nixon, in 1960 because during his televised debate he was “testy” and because he had a “five o’clock shadow” (appearing in public with stubble was bad form for a cis-gendered man in those days, go figure). Why is this a badge of honor and not shameful? Glib does not mean smart. Charming, as we saw with JFK, doesn’t mean competent or trustworthy. Why should the media have this outsized role in our elections? Why should we allow a process to exist where trivialities can decide the next president?

More to the point, the debates are simply a ratings draw for the major networks and the moderator slot is nothing more than a way to inject yet more blow-dried nincompoops of all sexes into our political life. President Trump, of all people, should know that agreeing to debate with a moderator from a news organization that has spent the past three years calling him a Russian stooge and insinuating, if not outright stating, that his administration is not legitimate is simply going to hand the Democrat a lot of sympathetic media just a few weeks before the general election. The Washington Post and other outlets have staff who catalog the number of “lies” told by Trump and report on it regularly–this is a world in which a statement that goes against the media’s received wisdom is labeled a lie, so whatever–and there is zero reason to think that any member of these outlets will approach their role as moderator as anything more than a way to stage a “gotcha” at Trump’s expense.


In short, the current presidential debates a) cheapen the political discourse, b) add nothing to the knowledge of the average voter, c) are structured to create conflict and drama, d) are hosted by moderators who overtly favor Democrats who are mostly employed by outlets who overtly endorse Democrats (don’t tell me about the “separation” of news and editorial because I haven’t believed in unicorns or leprechauns for quite a few years), d) boost the profile of a handful of media poseurs who think they should be president, and e) feed into the idea that the news media is some kind of entitled priesthood uniquely qualified to cover policy debates. They make all of us dumber and more ill-mannered simply by their existence


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