Debates are the primary means by which most of us learn about Presidential Candidates and their policies. Because of this, debates are an incredibly important part of our democracy. So important that this election’ debates are beyond problematic. The Fox News debate was grotesquely unfair, forcing qualified candidates to sit at a “kid’s table” based on polls, which are meant to be responses to what is going on in the election and not used as a tool to winnow the field. When some pollsters refrain for polling certain races to not have their polls manipulated beyond their original intent, you know there is a problem.
Yet CNN looks poised to repeat these same errors. Following Fox’s lead, CNN will implement a “kid’s table” in their debate. Even more problematic, is that Carly Fiorina, whose popularity has increased since the first debate, appears again to be on track for the “kid’s table”. Despite outpolling several of her competitors in the polls. None of this would have to happen if instead of a “kid’s table” and a prime time debate, there were just two debates where candidates are chosen at random to be on stage and field the same questions. Regardless of what the polls say, each candidate deserves to be treated as a serious contender and allow the people to decide who will be their ultimate nominee. To continue down this road is to essentially create a national primary; a primary that is based more on national popularity and money that the democratic contest that tests all candidates.
However, the Democrats are by no means exempt from poor debate construction. Unlike the GOP who has a problem with picking who will be on stage, the Democrats have a problem of when. Their first debate will be in October, after the GOP has already had two debates. Yes, there are far fewer candidates on the Democratic side, there is no reason that there should be less debates. There are five declared candidates in the field, but as I write this, the attention on the Democratic field is on the entrance of another candidate. While the potential entrance of Vice President Biden is important, it would serve our democracy more to have the already declared candidates debating and discussing the issues that Americans care about.
I think a great idea to help our democracy, apart from more inter-party debates would be in include intra-party debates. With a debate stage of Democrats and Republicans, neither side would be able to tack to the extreme without being confronted by members of the other party. Both parties would have a chance to fact-check the other and to have to confront the other side. The audience could be made up on a mix of Americans from all walks of life and all political stripes, so that the applause and audience reaction would be indicative of how the country felt about an issue. The overall effect of this debate structure could help find the political middle and weed out those candidates beyond the pale on either side of the aisle. In the end, debates are critical and less is DEFINITELY not more.