They are beginning to happen so frequently – not only on the Republican side but also on the Democratic – that it is becoming a bit mind-numbing when they come up. For the fourth time in the past three months, however, the Republican Party will be gathering at the Milwaukee Theatre in Wisconsin for another two tiered debate. The debate, hosted by Fox Business Channel and moderated by FBC’s Neil Cavuto, Maria Bartiromo and Wall Street Journal editor in chief Gerard Baker, may appear to be the same on the surface, but there are underpinnings that have changed some of the dynamics.
The change will be apparent from the pregame show, otherwise known as the “kiddie table” debate. Gone from that stage will be former New York Governor George Pataki and current South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who have both been polling in the microscopic digits and were deemed as no longer viable in the race by Fox Business. Despite both candidates complaining that the Republican National Committee is looking to knock out candidates rather than have their constituency decide (Graham stated on MSNBC that the RNC “couldn’t run a one-car funeral”), neither man will be in attendance when former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and current Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal take the stage for the opening act on Tuesday.
It isn’t just going to be Santorum and Jindal on the stage for the pregame show, however (despite the high comedy of how they would attempt to “out-righteous” each other for the evangelical vote). Coming down the ramp like wrestlers in the WWE to battle against The Religious Way (oh, wait…they’ll be looking to join the team!) will be two veterans of the “Main Event,” former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and current New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (at a combined weight of 600 pounds!). These two gentlemen have been cast away from the main debate for the same reasons that Pataki and Graham aren’t around anymore; their poll numbers have plunged to a depth that they no longer are considered serious contenders for the GOP nomination.
This will leave eight players – political outsiders Dr. Ben Carson and businessman billionaire Donald Trump (tossing the lead back and forth between each other), Florida Senator Marco Rubio (garnering more support from the “establishment” wing of the GOP as they desert another candidate), Texas Senator Ted Cruz (clinging to the Tea Party vote while he waits for Trump to leave the campaign), former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (losing that establishment vote while eliminating exclamation marks from his campaign slogan in favor of “fixing” something, just what isn’t known), Ohio Governor John Kasich, former businesswoman Carly Fiorina and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul – to take the stage for the “Main Event” on Tuesday night. Debate organizers probably could have cut Paul, Kasich and Fiorina (who has plummeted after making her run out of the “minor leagues” to the Adult Table due to her inability to find a subject to run on) for the same low poll numbers that they have been using in dismissing others, but they (and the RNC) probably didn’t want to appear that they were trying to manipulate the game too much. As such, they will be trying to wedge themselves into discussion amongst the Top Five candidates, who are viable in that they control roughly 75% (76.6% to be exact, according to Real Clear Politics) of potential GOP voters.
Not only have the dynamics of the participants changed for this fourth debate, there will probably be noticeable changes to the general tenor of the questioning from the Fox Business Channel moderators and staff.
The first debate, basically a “get your feet wet” affair, was on the home turf of Fox News Channel, but some of the candidates still found something to bitch about even though their questioning was rather low-key. The second debate, conducted by CNN, amped up the pressure on the candidates over a three hour span (the longest debate so far of the 2015-16 primary season) and has generally been recognized as the best debate to this point. The candidates complained – especially Trump and Carson – that the debate was too long (in reality, it actually forced them to have substance rather than fluff to their statements in requiring explanation). Then there was the debacle of last month’s CNBC debate, an unruly affair that featured inane questions from the panel and outright refusal to answer questions from the candidates.
That CNBC debate, however, will hover like a smoke cloud over the Fox Business proceedings. The ineptitude of the CNBC moderators will probably remove any character questions from the Fox Business panel’s repertoire, meaning that there will be no answers to Carson’s consistently false claims in his books and in his speeches. Carson, who has come under fire for inaccuracies and perhaps fabrication of some of his past actions and achievements (most people do this but, then again, most people aren’t running for President; for the ultimate job interview, you pretty much have to be scot-free of scandal nowadays or at least have “plausible deniability”), has continually ducked those questions. Cavuto, Bartiromo and Company aren’t going to be able to query Carson on these inaccuracies lest they be besmirched with the Scarlet “G” of “gossip.”
This also means that the panel will not be able to point out differences between the candidates regarding their policies. They will probably stay far away from any sparring sessions between Trump and…well, anyone on the stage…regarding his draconian plans on immigration. There is the slimmest of possibilities that there will be some discussion between the candidates as they delve into their differences, but Fox Business doesn’t want to give the candidates the ability to say they were “set up” to fight with each other (as Cruz alleged in the CNBC debate).
Although there won’t be the circus atmosphere on the stage in Milwaukee, this is a chance to see some actual discussion on the issues (that is, if the candidates will answer the questions as they are presented to them). I WOULD like to see Trump’s feet held to the fire regarding how he plans to round up 11 million people without it looking like he’s sending an entire race to the gulag. I’d like to see Trump explain where the money is coming from for this and his other fantasyland projects such as the Great Wall of Mexico. I’d like to hear from Carson how his tax plan isn’t going to put an even larger crater in the national debt; hell, this is something I’d like to hear from all the candidates in how, if they cut taxes to the bare bones, how it is supposed to translate to more revenues actually coming into the government (the “trickle down” economics from the Reagan Administration have been proven time and again to be false).
In this explanation, I want more than “increased buying power of customers,” “repatriation of money from overseas companies” and “small business growth” as platitudes. Explain in simple terms how cutting taxes without an appropriate or deeper cuts in the spending is supposed to either stanch the growth or lower the national debt. Then also explain to me what some people are to do when those cuts are so deep that they can no longer keep their heads above water and stay in the game (re: actually stay alive).
Rubio, Cruz, Bush, Paul, Fiorina, Kasich…there are a host of inquiries about policies that they have stated to the public that could be the basis of a myriad of questions from the hosts at Fox Business. My only hope in the debate is that we don’t get a castrated Fox Business panel that either can’t or won’t ask the tough questions in fear of “offending” the candidates. This is a Presidential debate, for fuck’s sake, and not a coquette’s debutante ball. The questioning is supposed to be harsh, unnerving and probing…you are going to be leading the strongest nation in the world and, as such, you’d BETTER be able to handle the heat of the job rather than running to a pulpit to seek permission from a “higher authority.”
Unfortunately, this is what I believe we are going to see on Tuesday night. Cavuto will have a choker on him from the Fox Business brass (or perhaps even Fox News chairman Roger Ailes himself will have his hand on the jerker chain) and will have all the strength of a neutered Chihuahua. Bartiromo will bat her eyes as she “seriously” looks into the numbers, while Baker will rubber stamp things as long as he can lock up the candidates for an op-ed in the WSJ in the near future. The debate will not be providing anything substantive that people can examine in depth, allowing the candidates themselves to crow about how “they have control of the message” (what that message is really is anyone’s guess), at least until the next debate.
Those looking to be a leader of ALL people, not just one segment of the people, have to be able to answer the hard questions and with something more than platitudes or dismissals. If a group isn’t challenged to show their abilities in leadership, then they don’t earn that chance to be a leader. If those that question them – and those that listen to the answers to those questions – allow them to bypass this process and immediately put them into leadership because of other non-leadership qualities, then you get what you asked – or didn’t ask – for.