The lights had barely gone out on the University of Colorado stage last week when the national media and professional pundits began talking about what the various Republican candidates would need to do in the next debate, planned for Nov. 10 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Sure, Sen. Marco Rubio was hailed as the winner, with Sen. Ted Cruz getting considerable attention as well. And there was a lot of attention given over to Jeb Bush’s poor performance and what it meant to his campaign. But just about every pundit mentioning the debate also threw in that there is another one coming up in a couple weeks and focused much of their attention on what the candidates would need to do to come out a victor in that contest.
Candidates last week plummeted the mainstream media, which isn’t surprising given that misdirection and deflection has long been a main platform of the tea party. Cruz, when asked a substantive question about the budget deal that was being worked out in Congress, chose instead to rail against media bias and how the moderators weren’t asking substantive questions. When his time was up and the moderators attempted to move on to someone else, Cruz whined that they didn’t want to hear his answer.
The moderators made lots of mistakes, for sure. And the media as a whole isn’t always as fair as it needs to be. But using that as an excuse to not answer a question is an outright deflection, just as Rubio did when he complained his home state newspaper, which had called on his to resign his Senate post because of missed votes, hadn’t made the same call for other candidates that they favored in previous elections.
In both cases, however, the GOP-leaning audience went wild with applause. For all the complaints the candidates had about the moderators pitting them against each other and baiting them, it seems that type of cage match is exactly what the audience wanted – entertainment, not substantive discussion.
Contrasts were drawn to the Democratic debate, which featured more actual issues-related questions and answers. Oddly though, while the mainstream media has been focusing all the attention on what the GOP candidates need to do ahead of the Nov. 10 debate, they seem to have forgotten the second Democratic forum is Nov. 6. Why bother? They have already anointed Hillary Clinton the nominee. Sure, they give lip service to Bernie Sanders because of his standing in the polls, but none of the professional pundits actually believe Sanders can beat Clinton. Plus, there’s nothing to hype because Sanders rarely goes after Clinton directly and, even when he does, his attacks don’t even come close to the level of rudeness and personal jabs that have been the hallmark on the GOP side.
This isn’t about the candidates or who is best for America. It is about ratings. And when the moderators on the stage are television personalities trying to improve their personal brand image, they tend to try and do things that will get them attention. We’d get better debates if they picked moderators from outside that inner circle of television pundits
In reality, The Nov. 14 Democratic debate – the third Democratic gathering -- and the Nov. 10 Republican debate are crucial because they will be the last chance this year for candidates to make a big impression. Sure, other debates are planned. But the Republicans will have their next debate Dec. 15, and the Democrats will have a debate on Dec. 19, but most of the country is going to be focused on the holidays. No one is going to be paying much attention. And once we get through to the new year it will only be a few weeks until the first caucuses and primaries.
Sanders likely will still be fighting Clinton. But it will be interesting to see how many Republican candidates remain in the fray.