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Presidential debates should be more politics and less pokes

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Presidential debates should be more politics and less pokes

By Jessie Webster

Here’s a fun little midweek quiz for you, see if you can determine whether the following quotes were said by kindergarteners, or the leading candidates for the Republican nomination for President of the United States:

“If he hadn’t inherited $200 million, you know where Donald Trump would be right now? Selling watches in Manhattan?”

“This guy’s a choke artist. This guy’s a liar.”

“Donald Trump has never punched anyone in the face. Donald Trump was the first guy that begged for Secret Service protection.”

Of course, the answer to my quiz is a trick question. Donald Trump or Marco Rubio uttered two of the statements above last Thursday during the last Republican debate before the Super Tuesday primaries, the last one coming from Rubio during a campaign rally the next day.

It’s likely that the vast majority of American citizens can correctly tell the difference between the Republicans now pass off as a debate, and what would be an incredibly politically informed fight for a bunch of five-year-olds.

That being said, the quality of Republican debates we have been subjected to are a far cry from anything presidential. We as a society cannot become complacent bystanders as legitimate candidates for the next leader of this country go on national television and throw personal insults at each other, rather than debating issues that actually impact the public.

As with many other parts of our country’s voting process, presidential debates need complete reform.

The point of my comparison between these Republican candidates and children was obviously tongue-in-cheek, but only to a certain degree.

The fact remains that the quality of Republican presidential debates in this country have become so pathetic, so troubling, so bigoted, they legitimately sound like they could be conducted in schoolyards across America.

What’s worse, the debates are a ratings juggernaut.

Last Thursday’s GOP debate brawl averaged 14.5 million viewers across CNN and Telemundo. For perspective’s sake, the most recent Democratic debate, on PBS and CNN, had a combined audience of 8 million viewers. [http://money.cnn.com/2016/02/26/media/republican-debate-cnn-telemundo-ratings/]

Above all else, the danger of these debates lies in their popularity. By the millions, average American voters are watching Trump, Rubio and Ted Cruz say whatever they want on stage, and then believe it as the complete and utter truth. If a casual voter can watch and listen to a candidate, they are less likely to do any other form of independent research.

One way to do so is to give candidates the questions they will be asked during the debate, say 48 hours in the advance, so that they have time to craft a legitimate response instead of focusing on discrediting their opponents.

Additionally, all voters must be doing their own research into candidate’s policies, rather than allowing their vote to be swayed by which candidate is the most entertaining.

As they are held now, presidential debates in this country are so ineffective, the majority of voters reported no change in an opinion about a candidate before and after watching a presidential debate.

According to a study in the March 2011 issue of American Behavioral Scientist, “findings consistently show that viewers enter the debates with perceptions of candidates’ character and leadership qualities and that the debates tend to reinforce rather than change images unless the viewers are undecided or not well informed about a candidate.” [http://journalistsresource.org/studies/politics/elections/presidential-debates-effects-research-roundup]

Presidential candidates and their staffers understand that the majority of Americans do not take debates seriously, and they capitalize on it by participating in the free publicity, rather than saying anything substantive.

According to Andrew Bassil, a senior in LAS, the presidential debates are pointless because moderators allow candidates to give long, rambling answers without leaving any room for follow up questions.

“The way the debates are structured is so pointless because the candidates give the same, stump-speech answer they always do, insult their opponent and move on,” Bassil said. “I never feel like they’ve actually answered the question in any special detail.”

There are many things troubling about this election season, but none more so than Donald Trump’s increasingly inevitable nomination for the Republican candidate for president of the United States. His competitors know this, and they are pulling out all the stops to beat him, including stooping to Trump’s level by resulting in threats and name calling.

However, while Trump cannot be beaten by name calling, he can be beaten by intelligence. Changing debates to emphasize candidate’s actual plans and visions for this country, rather than their name-calling capabilities, will help to expose unqualified candidates like Trump, and make the election process a little bit more informative for all of us.

Jessie is a junior in Media.?

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