No more presidential primary “debates”

These are not debates. A debate entails a question argued by two opposing sides. These presidential primary “debates” are joint interviews, yet with candidates given too little time to seriously answer. More like mud wrestling.

In theory, democracy is served when voters get an opportunity to assess candidates. However, these sorts of “debates” incentivize candidates to showcase their differences in all the worst ways, that don’t actually help us select a leader. The leadership qualities we should seek, and those that shine on the debate stage, are very different. In some ways even antithetical.

Perhaps this is what we should expect in this infotainment age; in 2016 it seemed voters were actually picking a celebrity reality performer. Not a joke — it’s really the only way to make sense of Trump’s election in light of the two main candidates’ respective debate performances.

The same dynamic has operated in the Democratic debates thus far. They are structured to reward “gotcha” bullying tactics. Exemplified by Julian Castro’s hit on Biden. Castro was gotchaed on his own petard when the facts vindicated Biden.

(Reminds me of Messala in the chariot race with Ben Hur.) Good for that, but it doesn’t negate what pushed Castro into it.

If the aim were really to inform voters about candidates, we should ditch this debate stage thing in favor of a series of in-depth one-on-one conversations with well-versed journalists. Of course that would be boring TV. The true aim is not to inform viewers but titillate them into staying tuned through the commercials. With the equivalent of chariot races.

I’m talking here about a multi-candidate field. Debates between two finalists for the November elections stand differently, and it does make some sense to size them up side-by-side. I would not want to lose that. But that assumes voters are capable of properly evaluating what they see, with a sense of civic responsibility. Again, 2016 makes that doubtful.

One focus for Democrats has been assessing which candidate(s) could go toe-to-toe with Trump in debates. As though Trump won in 2016 thanks to formidable debating skill. And why assume such debates will occur in 2020? No law requires them. They used to be customary, but so were candidates releasing tax returns. Trump would actually have far more to lose than to gain from debates, not needing them to convey his message. He will come up with some bullshit pretext to avoid debating.

On the other hand, his narcissistic delusionality may extend to imagining himself handily crushing any debate opponent. Maybe he even believes he did win the 2016 debates. But on the third hand, that 2016 history may show debates don’t matter after all.

One Response to “No more presidential primary “debates””

  1. Lee Says:

    Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, and likely other television hosts do interviews of the Democratic candidates one-on-one. They aren’t hour long but sometimes they stretch more that 15 minutes at a time, with some candidates appearing several times. I find them informative to a large extent … and not boring.

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