Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Did The Debate Commission Provide the Election’s ‘Galvanizing Moment?’

 

If you had the so-called Commission on Presidential Debates framing the issue that voters may well take with them into the voting booth on November 3 (or before) on your 2020 election bingo card, congratulations. Who thought an obscure, 33-year-old nonprofit organization might provide the potential galvanizing moment just weeks before Election Day?

As former GOP presidential nominee and ex-Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole has confirmed, the Commission is in the tank for Joe Biden, or at least against President Trump.

But you didn’t need Sen. Dole (disclosure: he nominated me to become the 28th Secretary of the Senate in 1995) to tell you that. It wasn’t hard to decipher unless you have blinders on, or perhaps suffer from Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS).

And what is this galvanizing moment? Defining the election as “country versus capital,” with a hat-tip to radio talker and columnist Hugh Hewitt for coining that term.

The misnamed Commission (it’s not a “commission” in the way many Americans would define the term) personifies what a large number of Americans despise or loathe about our Nation’s Capitol. And as a former 23-year resident of “the swamp” who still owns property there — and now having been away for 18 years — I understand both camps. My feet are now firmly planted in the “country” camp. Not that long ago, they were planted in the swamp.

Just look at the history and makeup of the commission. It is a privately-funded, nonprofit group that was created in 1987 by the chairs of the Republican and Democratic parties (Frank Fahrenkopf and Paul Kirk, respectively). Fahrenkopf, who effectively chaired the RNC as I was becoming of age in DC politics, remains as one of three co-chairs. Like everything else created inside Washington’s 62-mile beltway, it was well-intended. It was created as a bipartisan vehicle through which presidential candidates could negotiate debate terms, such as moderators, number of debates, stages, and formats.

And like just about everything else in DC, it lives on and has diverted from its intended purpose, now with arrogance and malice. Unfortunately, it is probably not going away unless and until its funding dries up. Not likely to happen, since they’re now running debates in a number of countries.

Just check the Commission’s board membership, average age 73. They are all former Washington insiders from the media (Charles Gibson, former ABC news correspondent), corporate insiders (Richard Parsons, former AOL and Time-Warner chief executive), and former US Senators (Jack Danforth, R-MO, and Olympia Snowe, R-ME). Fahrenkopf remains co-chair after all these years. Former Presidents serve as “advisory” co-chairs but that’s meaningless.

What else explains the refusal of the commission from choosing even one moderator from outside the beltway? Are there no serious journalists from respected news outlets such as the Dallas Morning News, Chicago Tribune, Daily Oklahoman (Chris Casteel would make a terrific moderator), or Denver Post? All three anointed moderators come from broadcast media, which as a former print journalist from small towns in Oklahoma, I find somewhat offensive.

The blatant bias in Chris Wallace’s failed performance (no moderator should allow him or herself to become a story); reports of Steve Scully’s past history with Joe Biden (and apparent relationship with Trump hater Anthony Scaramucci); and even the more subtle but still evident bias in USA Today’s Susan Page’s largely one-sided questioning during the vice presidential debate leads to an obvious conclusion.

But the coup de grace was the Commission’s ham-handed handling of the decision to turn the second presidential debate into a “virtual” one without consulting at least the Trump campaign, if not also the Biden campaign (I do not know whether Biden’s campaign was contacted or consulted in advance — no one seems to be asking). Fahrenkopf appeared on Fox News’ Martha McCallum’s show and said it was for “health reasons.” This, despite the fact that Trump’s appearance would be consistent with CDC guidelines about public contact at least 10 days after infection. White House physician Dr. Sean Conley declared Trump “no longer a transmission risk” on October 10.

The second presidential debate was scheduled for October 15.

Hewitt, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and others are advocating for the Commission to be abolished. Yes, its time came and went, long ago. But that’s not the issue.

The Commission symbolizes DC beltway elitism, arrogance, and detachment from “normal” Americans. And this detachment is bipartisan. Just look at the list of former GOP members of Congress, former Bush and other GOP Administration officials, and a host of other “never Trumpers” who have endorsed or are supporting Joe Biden for President.

A few of them have their own personal reasons almost exclusively focused on Trump’s aesthetics or often abrasive, belligerent style. Others, however, I suspect miss the kind of influence they had with prior administrations, or perhaps have lobbying or consulting contracts that will be advantaged under a Biden presidency. In doing so, they jettison a career of commitment to principles such as less government, lower taxes, and even being pro-life. Some have found a way to monetize their Republican “Never Trump” status (see: Lincoln Project).

Most are DC insiders, just like the members of the Commission on Presidential Debates. They socialize with each other. They gather together at favorite DC restaurants or each other’s homes, connect on the fundraising circuit, and serve on panels together at obscure events hosted by a multitude of well-connected “think tanks.” After all, in DC, personnel is policy. It really is “who you know.” As a former lobbyist, I get that.

And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. The business world often works the same way, although the private sector expects results and doesn’t typically reward excuses and failure. In politics, elections are one-day sales every two, four, or six years. Every day is “election day” in the free market.

But what attracts someone to work and prosper in official Washington? There are many reasons, but may I respectfully suggest, for more than a few, it is because they think that they should be helping run the country. They want to influence and even to control. In a word, power. All for the common good, of course. And if you make money in the process, all the better. Four of the top six US counties with the highest median incomes — all above six figures — are found in the Washington, DC metropolitan statistical area.

For many (certainly not all), that means they believe they’re smarter than you. You know, you there, unsophisticated rube, clinging bitterly to your guns and religion, who doesn’t have a college degree, or ever escaped your boring little town in flyover country. How else can you explain 30+ years of federal dietary guidelines that are designed to tell you what and how to eat? How have they worked out?

It’s no wonder that so many normal Americans feel disconnected to their nation’s capital and think Washington despises them.

Because it does.

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There are 11 comments.

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  1. Bob Thompson Member

    I saw Chris Wallace today in a panel session on Judge Barrett’s hearing. He got into a back and forth with Jonathan Turley that convinces me that Wallace has a very weak claim to be a newscaster/anchor but has embraced the role of opinion host. The recent criticism of his debate moderator performance has unhinged his ability to hide that opinion maker role.

    • #1
    • October 12, 2020, at 12:36 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  2. CACrabtree Coolidge

    I think that in any other year, something like this might make a difference. However, in this era of rabid, frothing TDS’ers, I don’t think it will.

    One of my favorite quotes from LBJ concerned the election of 1972, “George McGovern couldn’t carry Texas if Dick Nixon were caught f****** a sow in downtown Fort Worth”. It’s that way in this election. Because of the TDS’ers and their media allies, everything is secondary to Trump hatred.

    • #2
    • October 12, 2020, at 12:46 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  3. cdor Member
    cdor Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Unfortunately, @soupguy, if Trump doesn’t win this election, it probably won’t matter if the Debate Commission survives or not. Washington D.C. needs to be broken up. It’s a monopoly. Take all the departments of the Executive Branch and move them to all four corners of the country and everywhere in between. Our government should be composed of Americans of all stripes and should be physically where we live. Let the government Zoom to work like us regular Americans are being forced to do.

    • #3
    • October 12, 2020, at 12:48 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  4. Bob Thompson Member

    Bucknelldad: But you didn’t need Senator Dole (disclosure: he nominated me to become the 28th Secretary of the Senate in 1995) to tell you that. It wasn’t hard to decipher unless you have blinders on, or perhaps suffer from Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS).

    I spent 1971-1994 as part of the federal bureaucracy, the last eleven years of that in the Senior Executive Service at the Treasury Department. @soupguy you had a clearer perspective on the political front but I can assure you that you would be hard pressed to find one in ten career SES types (these tend to be the permanent leaders in the bureaucracy) who vote Republican and fewer who would support Donald Trump. No President in my lifetime has ever faced opposition from within as he has. Four more years are needed. 

    • #4
    • October 12, 2020, at 12:49 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  5. genferei Member
    genferei Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Televised debates are a media invention that serves only the media (and other establishment egos). Their death is long overdue.

    The myth that media neutrality is possible and desirable also serves only the establishment. It, too, should die. 

    • #5
    • October 12, 2020, at 12:52 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  6. Sisyphus Member
    Sisyphus Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    genferei (View Comment):

    Televised debates are a media invention that serves only the media (and other establishment egos). Their death is long overdue.

    The myth that media neutrality is possible and desirable also serves only the establishment. It, too, should die.

    Televised debates have been the one place where each side actually encounters the positions and claims of the other. With all of the bias, 2/3 of Hispanics thought Trump won and 3/4 of Hispanics thought Pence won. 

    We agree on media neutrality. Twas ever this. It was always vanity to think otherwise.We should recognize journalistic institutions that have never won or even been considered for a Pulitzer Prize. 

    • #6
    • October 12, 2020, at 1:04 PM PDT
    • Like
  7. Bucknelldad Coolidge
    Bucknelldad

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Bucknelldad: But you didn’t need Senator Dole (disclosure: he nominated me to become the 28th Secretary of the Senate in 1995) to tell you that. It wasn’t hard to decipher unless you have blinders on, or perhaps suffer from Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS).

    I spent 1971-1994 as part of the federal bureaucracy, the last eleven years of that in the Senior Executive Service at the Treasury Department. @soupguy you had a clearer perspective on the political front but I can assure you that you would be hard pressed to find one in ten career SES types (these tend to be the permanent leaders in the bureaucracy) who vote Republican and fewer who would support Donald Trump. No President in my lifetime has ever faced opposition from within as he has. Four more years are needed.

    I agree with you. I was a Deputy Secretary of Transportation during Bush 41, was a member of the SES, and saw much of the same thing (although Transportation was a bit less political than other federal agencies). 

    • #7
    • October 12, 2020, at 1:14 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  8. Bucknelldad Coolidge
    Bucknelldad

    genferei (View Comment):

    Televised debates are a media invention that serves only the media (and other establishment egos). Their death is long overdue.

    The myth that media neutrality is possible and desirable also serves only the establishment. It, too, should die.

    The Commission’s formats are terrible – over-prescriptive. A real debate would let a moderator introduce a question, give each candidate 10 minutes to speak uninterrupted, and then let ’em go at it for 10 more minutes. Introduce three topics, do this in an hour, maybe 75 minutes. That would be valuable, IMHO. 

    I don’t like town hall formats because it is too easy to stack the audience and hand-pick the questioners. 

    • #8
    • October 12, 2020, at 1:17 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  9. Bucknelldad Coolidge
    Bucknelldad

    cdor (View Comment):

    Unfortunately, @soupguy, if Trump doesn’t win this election, it probably won’t matter if the Debate Commission survives or not. Washington D.C. needs to be broken up. It’s a monopoly. Take all the departments of the Executive Branch and move them to all four corners of the country and everywhere in between. Our government should be composed of Americans of all stripes and should be physically where we live. Let the government Zoom to work like us regular Americans are being forced to do.

    Sounds good to me! We do need a “federal district” as the Constitution provides, but it doesn’t have to include (and, technically, doesn’t) every executive agency – Just Congress, the White House (and the Cabinet), and the Supreme Court. And I probably would not move the Departments of State and Defense over national security reasons. But there are no reasons why more of USDA, Transportation, Treasury, Veterans Affairs, Education, Commerce, or even HHS should not be in real America.

    • #9
    • October 12, 2020, at 1:21 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  10. Nohaaj Coolidge

    Regarding your title referencing a Galvanizing moment, I think not. No one on the left sees the commission nor any of the hosts as biased. The remaining 7 people who are undecided, who will actually vote, think the potential bias of the commission is insignificant noise that will have no impact on their final decision. 

    For those of us who have watched, observed and understand the 4 year coup attempt by the swamp, the media and Leftists, we have endured four years of treatment in the molten hot zinc. This little dip is insignificant. 

    • #10
    • October 12, 2020, at 1:21 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  11. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Bucknelldad: there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. The business world often works the same way, although the private sector expects results and doesn’t typically reward excuses and failure. In politics, elections are one-day sales every two, four, or six years. Every day is “election day” in the free market.

    I disagree. It is vile and evil

     

    • #11
    • October 12, 2020, at 2:47 PM PDT
    • Like