Who Won? Who Lost? Who Cares?
The Republicans held a debate on Tuesday night. Two actually. The first mattered to nobody and the second mattered to almost nobody, but that did not stop everyone I saw yesterday from asking two of these three questions.
Guess which one they did not ask.
The first question was supposed to be hard but actually it was easy. Hillary Clinton won the Republican debate. Wolf Blitzer finished second and CNN finished third.
Hillary won because virtually all of the major candidates (“major” at least according to the polls) engaged in a gotcha fest. Only a few candidates, virtually all of whom are within the margin of error of having no support at all, tried futilely to remind the other combatants that precisely nobody cared about this or that arcane vote or plan.
The “nobody-loves-me” caucus was correct and the expensive advisers to the leading candidates were not. By the end, the audience could not keep the positions straight anyway. Eyelids lowered and screens went dark.
The candidates all looked dreadful and collectively opened the door to Mrs. Clinton to be the last grown-up standing.
Wolf Blitzer won, or at least finished second, because he was able to trap all of the debaters into answering questions that have virtually nothing to do with the requirements of the job.
CNN finished at least third by drawing 18 million viewers and banking a big pile of cash.
By the way, virtually everyone with whom I discussed the “who won” question, replied that the candidate they had been supporting before the debate was the clear winner.
It would appear that few minds were changed.
It was a photo finish to determine whether the Republican candidates as a group or the Republican Party as a brand was more tarnished by the event.
With the Iowa caucuses looming on February 1, 2016, all of the candidates were in hard right mode. Caucuses are far more time-consuming than stopping by the firehouse to sign in, close the curtain and pull the lever for your favorite. Caucusing involves going to a high school gym, or some place of comparable size, where groups of people favoring different candidates gather in different corners. You chat them up; they make their pitches and eventually you decide on their candidate or not. But it takes forever.
Who goes to caucuses? Zealots. Who are the zealots in Iowa? Evangelicals. What are the candidates doing for months in advance of Iowa’s big day? Pandering to evangelical zealots. What else are they going? Providing splendid footage for their opponents to use against them when the targeted voters are less socially conservative.
Assuming the GOP actually cares about winning the presidency that is a spectacularly bad plan.
Actually, nobody asked this question yesterday, but part of the answer is easy. You shouldn’t. In fact, nobody who can even name a college or university let alone ever attend one should spend a moment worrying about which of the dozen people will run out of money first since that is the only reason anyone ever drops out.
Like shouting fire in a crowded theater, there should be an exception to the concept of free speech under the First Amendment. No politician should be permitted to have a plan or worse to describe it.
First, they don’t believe their own plans. The plans are simply designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator of next week’s voters.
Second, the candidates have no intention of following their plans because, in most cases, they will not work. They just sound good. Ka-ching for the pollsters.
Third, to make anything happen in Washington you have to negotiate with members of your own party, members of the opposing party and, of course, the lobbyists who been paying you all along. This tortured path has a tendency to change even the best-considered plan from where it began.
A line of questioning that would make much more sense if the purpose of the debates was actually to inform the voters would be for the moderator to ask: “what factors would you consider in deciding how to do this or that?” or “how would you think about this or that problem?”
Don’t hold your breath waiting for either of these questions, as they would only appeal to educated voters and, it appears, that educated voters will be greatly outnumbered by evangelical zealots on a cold night and Iowa.