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Face It, Presidential Debates Are Irrelevant

There is a spectre haunting the GOP nomination process – the Presidential Debates between the eventual Republican nominee and President Barack Obama. Why?

Let’s concede, for the sake of argument, that President Teleprompter will be able to put aside his growing peevishness with the ungrateful electorate and will bestride the debate stage with grace and authority. And let’s pretend, again for the sake of argument, that the mainstream media will fairly judge the debate performance, rather than c…

  1. Palaeologus

    The Presidential Debates are irrelevant. And, therefore, the Republican candidate debates are doubly so.

    No they aren’t. Check Perry’s poll numbers.

    Wishing something were true doesn’t make it so. See: Liberals.

  2. Freeven

    The Republican primary debates have been hugely important this time around. They’ve made Gingrich, and unmade Perry, just to name two.

  3. Mendel
    genferei

    And who will care? Yes, the media loves it. …. And political junkies (like us) will lap it up, cringing or fist-pumping as the mood takes them. But no one else will notice.

    Actually, this years’s debates have been setting records for the number of viewers (over 6 million for one of them), doubling the number of viewers during the last Republican primary.  I can think of no other vehicle for candidates to talk to the public with that much reach.

  4. Mendel
    genferei

    The Presidential Debates are irrelevant. And, therefore, the Republican candidate debates are doubly so.

    I would argue the opposite: that the Republican debates are much more important than the presidential ones.

    Consider that by the time the two nominees debate, most of the viewers know more about each one than about their own mothers. 

    But before the Republican debates, how many people had actually heard Herman Cain speak, or even Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann for that matter?  The debates have become THE forum this year for the candidates to make first impressions on the electorate.

  5. The King Prawn
    Mendel

    The debates have become THE forum this year for the candidates to make first impressions on the electorate. · Nov 15 at 8:52am

    Which is why being a Perry fan is the same as supporting the Cowboys during the Danny White years.

  6. Freeven
    The King Prawn

    Mendel

    The debates have become THE forum this year for the candidates to make first impressions on the electorate. · Nov 15 at 8:52am

    Which is why being a Perry fan is the same as supporting the Cowboys during the Danny White years. · Nov 15 at 9:24am

    I wouldn’t call myself a Perry fan, but he’s still on my short list. There is still a long time to go, there are still relatively few people paying attention, and he still has a lot of money.

  7. Elena

    They’re far from irrelevant.

    Ronald Reagan’s question about whether Americans were better off after four years of Jimmy Carter was decisive.

    When Walter Mondale proclaimed that he would raise taxes, his campaign was sunk.

    When Al Gore claimed to have invented the Internet, he demonstrated just how delusional he really was.

    When Michael Dukakis stumbled over a question about how he would feel about the death penalty if his wife was raped and murdered, he lost any chance of winning the election.

  8. Nyadnar17

    I won’t vote for a Candidate that is incapable of explaining and defending Conservative values. These debates mean a lot to me and judging by the polls and reports they mean a lot to voters and donators as well.

  9. David Williamson
    Freeven: The Republican primary debates have been hugely important this time around. They’ve made Gingrich, and unmade Perry, just to name two. · Nov 15 at 5:43am

    Exactly so. And I think this will apply even more so in the debates against the charming Mr Obama.

  10. Steven Zoraster

    Possibly every President since since those who were founders of this country have been egotists. 

    But, I think even some of the more recent ones actually wanted the job to do good things or right great wrongs. Not that they were not egotists to think they could do so.

    Now all I see and read are people who just want the job at the top of the heap.  Obama, Perry, Romney, Cain, etc.  They had no great program in mind if they get elected.(“Hope and change” does not count.  “9-9-9″ does not count .)

    Think of Lincoln called back to  politics over the issue of expending slavery into the territories and the Dread Scott decision threatening its expansion into the free states.

    Whether either of Franklin Roosevelt or Theodor Roosevelt were great Presidents is open to argument but I think they thought a bit beyond themselves.

    Eisenhower was an honest caretaker who did not make too many mistakes.

    Reagan is the last one I think wanted to be President because there were things that needed to be done which he could do.

  11. Larry Koler

    Please defend yourself, genferei. I’m listening. There is some truth to what you are saying. 

    But still there are a few people still on the fence in any election and they can be affected: In 1976, I voted for Carter and up through the 1st debate of Reagan and Carter, I was still planning on voting for Carter again. Then the 2nd debate completely changed my mind about Reagan. I was sick of Carter but I didn’t know enough about Reagan one way or the other. I was just uninformed and un-formed in my political views. I remember how easy a transition it was once I started to trust Reagan and, eventually, the Republican Party (although it’s been a rocky road in the last 10 years).

  12. genferei
    Freeven: The Republican primary debates have been hugely important this time around. They’ve made Gingrich, and unmade Perry, just to name two. · Nov 15 at 5:43am

    I don’t see Perry being unmade. I see him reverting to the mean (like Cain) after an initial burst of enthusiasm. Romney has stayed unchanged. Bachmann fell off the cliff because of what she said outside the debates. Cain is falling back (and may fall further) because of things he did decades ago, not because of what he said in one of the debates. Newt is bouncing around because the other numbers are changing.

    I do see some folks saying they are making decisions on who ought to be the candidate on the basis that their performance in the Republican primary debates is an indication of their likely performance in the Presidential debates. My argument is that this thinking is based on the false premise that these Presidential debates matter.

  13. genferei
    Mendel Consider that by the time the two nominees debate, most of the viewers know more about each one than about their own mothers. · Nov 15 at 8:52am

    If this were true (and I have my doubts), it would bolster my argument. The Presidential debates bring nothing new to the table and influence few voters. Therefore debate performance is irrelevant in choosing a nominee. Therefore using debates to select a nominee is perverse.

    Mendel Actually, this years’s debates have been setting records for the number of viewers (over 6 million for one of them), doubling the number of viewers during the last Republican primary.  I can think of no other vehicle for candidates to talk to the public with that much reach. · Nov 15 at 8:46am

    And yet what an odd way to go about communication – bite-sized answers to gotcha questions from hostile (and often misinformed) journalists. You can get 3-4 million on a normal Monday O’Reilly (depending on how you count the 11pm repeat), and even a couple of million for a Wall Street Journal op-ed. Heck, Sarah Palin gets 3 million likes on Facebook and she isn’t even running…

  14. genferei
    Elena: They’re far from irrelevant.

    Ronald Reagan’s question about whether Americans were better off after four years of Jimmy Carter was decisive.

    When Walter Mondale proclaimed that he would raise taxes, his campaign was sunk.

    When Al Gore claimed to have invented the Internet, he demonstrated just how delusional he really was.

    When Michael Dukakis stumbled over a question about how he would feel about the death penalty if his wife was raped and murdered, he lost any chance of winning the election. · Nov 15 at 1:13pm

    I really think that the idea these were decisive moments is a media myth. These incidents were all symptomatic of problems with the candidates (or campaigns). In retrospect they make a convenient hook on which to hang the judgment of the electorate. But did they really change anything? I’m dubious. Would Americans not have noticed what had happened under Carter if the debate (singular) had not occurred? That Mondale was a tax-and-spend type? That Al Gore is Al Gore?

    If we stop buying into the self-serving media spin that the debates are important we might even stop the horse race

  15. genferei
    Nyadnar17: I won’t vote for a Candidate that is incapable of explaining and defending Conservative values. These debates mean a lot to me and judging by the polls and reports they mean a lot to voters and donators as well. · Nov 15 at 1:51pm

    But surely the better measure of someones ability to explain and defend conservative values is their performance in set-piece speeches – or, to stretch a point, one on one interviews. How many debates does the President participate in outside a campaign?

  16. genferei
    Larry Koler: Please defend yourself, genferei.· Nov 15 at 2:06pm

    I’m trying :). But I can’t really argue with your own personal experience!

  17. KC Mulville
    genferei But surely the better measure of someones ability to explain and defend conservative values is their performance in set-piece speeches – or, to stretch a point, one on one interviews. How many debates does the President participate in outside a campaign? 

    I’m interested in this, and would love to hear from some of the former speechwriters. I don’t think the president has to be in debates (I’d rather have him listening to others debate), but I suspect he often has to think on his feet. That’s what I want to see. I want to see the candidate show that he can make sense of a discussion in front of him, and then offer a clear directive.

    But then again, I’ve read reports that Reagan wasn’t much for immediate directives, and Nixon expected his subordinates to dismiss his immediate ramblings. 

    How important is it? I’d have thought it was very important, but maybe not.

  18. Larry Koler
    genferei

    Larry Koler: Please defend yourself, genferei.· Nov 15 at 2:06pm

    I’m trying :). But I can’t really argue with your own personal experience! · Nov 15 at 3:11pm

    Well, the exception can prove the rule. 

    I wonder if you might be right that the media is all over the debate issue because it is really more about them than us. Very good point (end of comment 14). The lesson you bring up is the 1960 debate and it went their way. Perhaps they decided then to coopt the process. 

    One thing I am very happy about is Newt showing his disdain for the media. He wants no moderators, just timekeepers. What a concept! It would help the process a lot.

    Also, I think that the debate questions for the early primary debates should be pre-selected by the party and the media should be on the sidelines not center stage. (Think about how stupid the Republicans are for allowing this to go on.) With the candidates going on stage knowing what to talk about, this would prevent the gotcha moments that deeply hurt the party’s chances and their candidates in this critical early stage.

  19. The King Prawn

     I won’t go so far as to say the debates are entirely irrelevant (though I am sorely tempted to do so), but I will say they have become much more important than they should be. They are being given too much weight by those considering the candidates. In my perfect world the candidates’ proposals, records, and long for discussion/speeches would carry more weight than their ability to handle gotcha questions from a hostile media. Of course, if it was a perfect world there would be no hostile media asking gotcha questions of our candidates.

  20. Tom Lindholtz

    Gendered, it strikes me that you are arguing tautologically. You assume that the debates don’t matter, therefore the slip-ups in a debate don’t matter and are just reflective of deeper issues. You state that debates are a poor way to select a candidate, but, of course, we don’t select candidates via debate. We select them by ballot. The debates are simply one vehicle provided for our evaluative purposes. I find them useful — as someone said it requires the ability to know what you believe, know how to apply it, and be able to be persuasive, and all of this under pressure of a hostile moderator. If you do not find them useful, may I suggest re-runs of Law & Order or CSI? ;-)

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