The Pre-Pre-Debate Debate

 

With both the Republican and Democrat conventions over, the general election has begun in earnest, meaning that we’ll know which doom our future holds in fewer than 100 days. Part of what will determine said doom are the august (well, September and October, actually) presidential debates, and the less-august vice presidential debates. Already, controversy is swirling around them. The debates are organized by the Presidential Debate Commission, an ostensibly non-partisan 501(c)3 organization that has been doing this since 1987. The current controversy has to do with the dates and times of the debates, which will apparently overlap with the the observance of America’s national religion (football). This post though isn’t really about the scheduling of these debates — it’s probably impossible to find a time slot that doesn’t overlap with something that will draw complaint — but about who should be in the presidential debates.

As you all probably know, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are not the only two candidates seeking the presidency: Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Jill Stein of the Green Party have also thrown their hat in the ring, though their presence at these debates hinges on their performance in the polls. In order to be invited under current rules, each needs to appear on enough ballots to win 270 votes and earn at least 15 percent support in national polling. I want to approach this from two angles. First — from a simple non-partisan, first-principles angle — what rules should we employ to design a series of debates meant to allow presidential nominees to be seen and judged by the electorate? How can they be fair, but not just also be an invitation for any crackpot that can get on a single ballot either? Second — and from a purely partisan angle — what debate rules and formats would be the best interest of either of the two major party nominees? I’ll give you my thoughts and I look forward to reading yours in the comments. 

First Principles:

The debates are meant to offer voters a chance to compare and contrast the presidential nominees, but — on a national stage where numerous third parties appear on various ballots — the question of who is serious presidential nominee is a fair one. With the polling requirement, the current system creates a serious catch-22 for any third-party candidate: They need to be popular before they can get serious exposure, but they can not get popular without serious exposure. From the standpoint of democratic fair play, the commission should consider candidates’ seriousness rather than their popularity.

And to determine whether a candidate is serious, I would ask a simple question: Are you on the ballot in all 50 states? If yes, then your party is competent and serious enough to go through the work of putting you up as an option for all Americans. If you are only on the ballot in a handful of states, then you can’t be expected to win 270 electoral votes and should be considered a distraction. Though one could make the case that a candidate who was on 48 states — or simply enough to get them past 270 — should count, this is supposed to be a federal election for the entire nation, so a candidate on all 50 ballots has a much greater claim to a national stage than one on a mere thirteen big states.

Partisan Scheming:  

Of course, this is politics though so First Principles and democratic fairness don’t mean squat. To quote one of my favorite movies “I’m a politician which means I’m a cheat and a liar, and when I’m not kissing babies I’m stealing their lollipops.” So, how should the debates be gamed for political advantage?

Let’s start with Trump, who initiated the current row over the timing of the debates. Right now, he’s complaining that the debates are poorly scheduled and will lose ratings. This may be compelling, but it isn’t the most compelling line of argument he can make. Let us consider two facts. First, one of Trump’s favorite themes is that the system is rigged and that Clinton is one of the chief riggers. The second is that Gary Johnson may be more of a liability to Clinton than to Trump. Currently Johnson does not poll well enough to be invited to the debates, but more exposure in them might give people who can’t support Trump an alternative to Clinton. Since Johnson will be on nearly every ballot — thanks to the hard work of the Libertarian Party — Trump has an opportunity to split Clinton’s vote, while attacking the rigged system he enjoys fighting so much. It’s a win-win for him and would start a debate in which (for once) Trump looks like the guy trying to do the decent thing rather than just being a jerk. Considering his latest brawls, he could use a break. And in a strange way, it would be easier for many Republican politicians to focus on defending Johnson’s right to be in the debates than having to explain Trump’s latest utterances.

Clinton, however, needs to work to keep the debate just between her and Trump, as she can’t risk losing votes to either Stein or Johnson. Moreover, she can’t afford to waste time or energy fighting Johnson (or worse) Stein, whom Sanders supporters love. As such, her best play is to kill their debate aspirations quietly and to let Trump complain loudly. This will make him look small, especially if she implies — and perhaps, actually says — that he is scared to debate a strong woman one-on-one, hopefully setting Trump up for another self-destructive rant that alienates his more reluctant supporters.

Thought, Ricochet?

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  1. Guruforhire Inactive
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    What does hillary gain from a debate?

    • #1
  2. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    I think she gains the chance to further undermine Trumps credibility as actually being able to perform the job. Though considering how things are going for Trump right now, maybe she won’t have anything to gain from them at all. Though giving Trump something like an hour of free improve time to hang himself with some outlandish comments might be very tempting, especially if all the run up to the debate is just a series of Trump gaffes and scandals. Either way she can’t possibly push to not debate him, not without some really big excuse. She is the professional after all, and the expectations will be that debates will only benefit her because of her knowledge and experience.  If she is seen as running away it will undermine her claim to that. The champ can’t run away from the challenger.

    That’s her weakness in this. She has to stand and fight, but I don’t think Trump can fight her on policy or demeanor. He has to fight her with what he is best at, and that is rage against the system. He has to force her to defend a seemingly unfair system rigged to favor the two main parties.

    • #2
  3. Guruforhire Inactive
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Or just start tearing into his shtick about her many failures.  I don’t see how she can attack without the return fire being devestating.  Nobody believes her, not really, so it’s mostly downside.  Sure trump will say something dumb, but he will also point out the empress has no clothes and that nobody wants to see that.  Hillary can’t deflect, and she can’t absorb like trump can.

    So I think she doesn’t debate but she will try to make it a no platform move against trump because probably misogyny.

    • #3
  4. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    I don’t think Trump absorbs so much as he is oblivious, also Hillary is a master at deflecting. Her routine is transparent if you know what the facts actually are. The debates though will be about the the people who are just tuning in to the election then. Her lies will serve her well I think, they have so far. Also there is the fact that when Trump gets going he loses track of the attack line and instead goes off in some strange direction. Maybe her being there will keep him more focused, but I would not count on it.

    Also there is one other thing Hillary can gain from a debate. If Trump goes overboard she can then play the wronged woman card. Remember when she cried to win New Hampshire?

    I think at the least Hillary has to have one debate before she can shut it all down.

    • #4
  5. harrisventures Coolidge
    harrisventures
    @harrisventures

    Valiuth: We now have some 100 days till we see what our doom holds.

    Doomed! We’re all doomed! Doomed I say! Doomed!

    I’m sorry, what was the question again?

    • #5
  6. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    harrisventures:

    Valiuth: We now have some 100 days till we see what our doom holds.

    Doomed! We’re all doomed! Doomed I say! Doomed!

    I’m sorry, what was the question again?

    Doom is a good word highly under used in its original form which means something closer to fate. We are doomed to have Hillary or Trump as president. Unless a miracle happens. Hope springs eternal.

    • #6
  7. harrisventures Coolidge
    harrisventures
    @harrisventures

    Valiuth: Doom is a good word highly under used in its original form which means something closer to fate. We are doomed to have Hillary or Trump as president. Unless a miracle happens. Hope springs eternal.

    Valiuth, I value your opinions,  and I always enjoy your point of view. I’m sorry for being so flippant, but really, I just can’t take it seriously anymore. Far from having a win/win situation, in my opinion, what we have is a lose/lose situation.

    Debate schedules? Seriously? Trump/Clinton?

    I’m buying more ammo, and practicing more at the firing range.

    As Adam Smith said, ‘There is a lot of ruin in the country’. But eventually, there is too much ruin. So, I’m not optimistic. I find my Dad’s philosophy more and more appropriate.

    I am a cheerful pessimist. But really, we are all Doomed! Doomed I say! (Sorry, something wrong with my keyboard)

    • #7
  8. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I think if they mess with the rules, then it will look like the system is rigged. Your point about determining if a candidate is serious by that person having registered in all 50 states is a great idea, though. I think we let it play out with Trump and Clinton. I cringe at the circus it will probably be, but that’s politics for you. I expect that Trump will continue to help Clinton with his performance.

    • #8
  9. Cato Rand Inactive
    Cato Rand
    @CatoRand

    I think Hillary’s best move is to go on vacation.  Trump is the only example known to nature of spontaneous self-immolation.  All she does by showing up is remind people that she’s almost as frightening as he is.

    Plus, Trump’s audience is composed of know-nothings.  He doesn’t discredit himself to his supporters by showing up to a debate and talking as though the nuclear triad was a dance craze.  They don’t know the difference.  Yes, she knows more about . . . nearly everything . . . than he does.  But everyone persuadable already knows that and those who don’t know it aren’t persuadable.

    • #9
  10. Cato Rand Inactive
    Cato Rand
    @CatoRand

    The other catch-22 for Johnson and Stein is that you have to get to 15% in the polls to be included, but if you’re not at 15% you’re not included in most of the polls.  So it really is a system designed to keep third party candidates out of the debates.

    Of course that shouldn’t be that big a surprise, as the commission was a creation of the two major parties.  I think the idea is to look independent, not to be independent.

    • #10
  11. Guruforhire Inactive
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Cato Rand:The other catch-22 for Johnson and Stein is that you have to get to 15% in the polls to be included, but if you’re not at 15% you’re not included in most of the polls. So it really is a system designed to keep third party candidates out of the debates.

    Of course that shouldn’t be that big a surprise, as the commission was a creation of the two major parties. I think the idea is to look independent, not to be independent.

    True.  I would like to see more participants at debates particularly the libertarians.  I think more voices would force people to talk past the debate less.

    • #11
  12. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Cato Rand:Yes, she knows more about . . . nearly everything . . . than he does. But everyone persuadable already knows that and those who don’t know it aren’t persuadable.

    I’m not sure if that is true. I think there are many people who haven’t been paying close attention. Maybe they have heard somethings, and have a general leaning. They will want to sit down and see the two candidates stacked up against each other to make the final call. If both candidates play to their worst profiles then the debate won’t matter, but if one stands out by not meeting expectations (either being better or worse) then it will matter.

    But my thinking here is that Clinton may not need the debates, but she can’t easily avoid them. Trump given how things are going needs to change things up. Starting a fight about the debates I think can play to his rhetorical skills and offers a distraction where he can once again assume the mantle of fighting for the little guy rather than being the guy to insults grieving mothers and babies.

    • #12
  13. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    The best way to game things out would be for Trump to fight to let in Stein and Johnson, but allow Hillary to kill the idea behind closed doors, and then tar her with it.

    • #13
  14. Cato Rand Inactive
    Cato Rand
    @CatoRand

    Valiuth:

    Cato Rand:Yes, she knows more about . . . nearly everything . . . than he does. But everyone persuadable already knows that and those who don’t know it aren’t persuadable.

    I’m not sure if that is true. I think there are many people who haven’t been paying close attention. Maybe they have heard somethings, and have a general leaning. They will want to sit down and see the two candidates stacked up against each other to make the final call. If both candidates play to their worst profiles then the debate won’t matter, but if one stands out by not meeting expectations (either being better or worse) then it will matter.

    But my thinking here is that Clinton may not need the debates, but she can’t easily avoid them. Trump given how things are going needs to change things up. Starting a fight about the debates I think can play to his rhetorical skills and offers a distraction where he can once again assume the mantle of fighting for the little guy rather than being the guy to insults grieving mothers and babies.

    Certainly agree that she can’t easily avoid them.

    • #14
  15. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Valiuth:
    The second is that Gary Johnson may be more of a liability to Clinton than to Trump.

    The problem with this article is the stolen base. He shows, correctly, that third parties are a wash or slightly favor Trump. That isn’t the same thing as “the LP is a wash or favors Trump”. Indeed, unless you believe that the Green Party steals roughly equally from the two parties, the latter is obviously not true. It’s something of a pattern for fivethirtyeight to promote Johnson and pretend that Stein doesn’t exist. Also for Colbert, Bee, Maddow, Maher, and pals. I’m sure that they all have the best interests of limited government at heart.

    • #15
  16. Cato Rand Inactive
    Cato Rand
    @CatoRand

    James:

    1. No fair.  As a moderator you get about 9000 words/comment and I get about 12.
    2.  Whenever you talk about Johnson/Weld you run them down without dealing with the alternatives.  It’s as though I was passing over Winston Churchill to vote for them.  News flash:  the alternatives to Johnson/Weld are Trump or Clinton.
    3. Here’s why I’m voting for them and don’t give two hoots about all your quibbles with them.  Listen closely.  They’re not going to win, so I’m not voting for who’s going to sit in the oval office or live in the Naval Observatory.  I know that.  But in a year when there’s nobody to vote for, I’m just voting for the label.  The label I like.  I’m voting for the idea that this country would be better off with a real libertarian party that had some electoral heft and got taken seriously.  I’m voting in the hopes that party makes double digits for the first time in history and gets noticed.
    • #16
  17. Cato Rand Inactive
    Cato Rand
    @CatoRand

    By the way James, who would you vote for?  I’ve seen you do this anti-Johnson rant over and over both here and on Facebook (and in NR).  But if you’ve ever said who you’d support, I missed it.

    • #17
  18. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Cato Rand:James:

    1. No fair. As a moderator you get about 9000 words/comment and I get about 12.

    I was a Reagan member before I was a mod. So far as I know, mods get no special commenting privileges.

    1. Whenever you talk about Johnson/Weld you run them down without dealing with the alternatives. It’s as though I was passing over Winston Churchill to vote for them. News flash: the alternatives to Johnson/Weld are Trump or Clinton.

    I agree. The bar that they fail to clear is exceedingly low.

    1. Here’s why I’m voting for them and don’t give two hoots about all your quibbles with them. Listen closely. They’re not going to win, so I’m not voting for who’s going to sit in the oval office or live in the Naval Observatory. I know that. But in a year when there’s nobody to vote for, I’m just voting for the label. The label I like. I’m voting for the idea that this country would be better off with a real libertarian party that had some electoral heft and got taken seriously. I’m voting in the hopes that party makes double digits for the first time in history and gets noticed.

    If they make 5% (double digits is, afaik, irrelevant), they get $100m in public funding next cycle. That means that any limited government candidate running in 2020 will have a significantly more difficult time.  Since it’s hard to spend $200m (and $100m in public money should net at least an equal amount in private) and not get 5%, that means that we’ll have limited government candidates at a disadvantage for the foreseeable future. It condemns the American right to the fate of the Thatcherite left, when a third party meant that a minority of ideological extremists was able to transform the country on a consistent plurality vote.

    It’s true that if you define the vote as meaning what you want, then you can support voting for anyone, but the public meaning as it is heard is not defined by the voter. The Neo-Nazi who I got to enthusiastically support Rubio in New Hampshire (on the basis that Rubio’ s foreign policy in the Middle East was the most competent, meaning that he’d staunch the refugee crisis, which would keep Europe white more than any other candidate’s policies) was not conveying a message of Neo-Nazism through his vote.

    What is harder than claiming, eg., that one’s voting for Weld to express support for his dress sense (I believe this to be the quality in which the LP ticket is most clearly winning, so long as one does not include spouses), is the idea that J/W is a conscience vote. They are not, as they themselves repeatedly say, the lesser evils. No one who loves America, though, should intentionally choose the greater evils.

    • #18
  19. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Cato Rand:By the way James, who would you vote for? I’ve seen you do this anti-Johnson rant over and over both here and on Facebook (and in NR). But if you’ve ever said who you’d support, I missed it.

    I don’t think that the difference between the major party candidates is as great as the difference between the candidates and Johnson. If I was in a close and plausibly decisive state, I’d probably support Trump on the basis that a: I think he’s likely to be impeached if he wins, and I like Pence, b: that he’s more likely to see something like Simpson Bowles passed over his veto than Clinton is likely to pass something like that, and c: that I like his judicial picks as presented and believe it more than 90% likely that I would prefer any alternative picks to Clinton’s choices.
    If I were not, I would support Stein because third parties always destroy the principles that their labels stand for and the Green Party’s principles are worth destroying. I think reasonable people can disagree about which of Stein, Clinton, and Trump are best, though. Clinton seems to have the most competent foreign policy, both on trade and security, and that matters to me.

    • #19
  20. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Valiuth:The best way to game things out would be for Trump to fight to let in Stein and Johnson, but allow Hillary to kill the idea behind closed doors, and then tar her with it.

    It’s completely beyond me why Trump doesn’t attack Stein. If he let loose with just a couple of lines about how she was the worst candidate out there, a real extremist, he’d shoot her support through the roof and make things much harder for Clinton. I don’t think that he should support Stein in public, because that would be terrible for her.

    • #20
  21. Fred Cole Inactive
    Fred Cole
    @FredCole

    I think it’s worth discussing the outrageous fraud against the American public that the CPD.

    • #21
  22. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    James: My overall idea for Trump is that he needs to: 1) Change the subject from what a jerk he is, and 2) do it in a manner that seems authentic to him and that he might be able to sustain. The way I see it is Trump is doing much to drive people to Hillary because of his terrible personality. The optics of arguing for Stein and Johnson I think plays well with basic American values of fair play. Doing this therefore might help to soften his image (or at least give him the best chance he has of doing that without also seeming like he is back tracking). If Trump can make himself look less scary while still maintaining his anti-establishment angle, it might actually make people considering Stein feel more comfortable voting for her over Hillary, because they will loath Trump less.

    In the end considering that every last poll that has come out is showing him down some even by double digits. I think throwing a hail marry is his only shot. This is something I don’t think anyone would expect him to do.

    • #22
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