Considering The Fox Trump-less GOP Candidates Debate

Fox moderators

1. The run-up to the debate yesterday was embarrassing to the news media, especially CNN—even Fox did not obsess as much about the man who wouldn’t be on stage in Iowa as that shameless network. Not that Fox isn’t shameless: it’s greatest shame, Bill O’Reilly, once again showed himself to be both unethical and insufferable when he had Trump on his show and begged, pleaded, and cajoled the real estate mogul to reverse his decision. “Be the bigger man,” Bill said at one point. What the hell does that mean? Bigger than who? His employers—I don’t watch Fox live any more because they are still his employers—who properly refused to let him bully Megyn Kelly out of a moderator’s chair? Megyn Kelly? No, that can’t be it. Trump is a intellectual, moral and ethical midget with delusions of grandeur: O’Reilly was just feeding his ego. Then we learned, from Trump, that O’Reilly had enticed him on the air by promising not to talk about the debate boycott. O’Reilly admitted that was true, and then blathered facetiously about milkshakes, as if lying to a guest’s face was a big joke. O’Reilly is one of the deplorable people—most of his supporters, famous and not, are also in this category—who are so devoid of principles themselves that they make Donald Trump look admirable by comparison.

2. I wish I could say that Megyn Kelly was impeccable last night, but she wasn’t. She had a big chip on her shoulder, and mentioned Trump in the very first question, with a pre-composed, gaggy phrasing about “the  elephant not in the room”—lame witticisms were the theme of the night. That made the first question about her, and journalists are ethically obligated not to inject themselves into the story. No moderator should have mentioned Trump, but Kelly particularly. For the rest of the night she was aggressively adversarial, acting as if she was an undercover moderator from CNBC.

3. If there were any lingering doubts about what an arrogant jerk Ted Cruz is, his performance last night ought to have obliterated them. He reminds me of nothing so much as than the cocky high school nerd who thinks that because he’s elected class President, people really like him, but in truth he is socially hopeless. As a stage director and occasional humor writer, I cannot imagine a more pathetic attempt at a joke than his “I’m a maniac. Everyone on this stage is stupid, fat, and ugly. And Ben Carson, you’re a terrible surgeon. Now that we’ve gotten the Donald Trump part out of the way (rim shot!) . . .” bit. His timing was terrible, and because the thing went on long after everyone knew what the punchline would be, nobody but a shill or an idiot would laugh at it. Cruz got even worse, talking past his limit, whining about the moderators siccing everyone else on him (though they were), trying to change the rules, and sounding like Bill Clinton as he tried to explain away what were his obvious flip-flops on immigration.

I noticed that as the camera panned the debaters dispersing after the debate, nobody spoke to Cruz or even looked at him, while the others were smiling and being collegial to one another. No wonder.

4. The absence of Trump made the absurdity of Dr. Ben Carson’s candidacy even more evident. Based on several of his comments last night, he really does expect people to believe that having no qualifications or relevant experience for the job means he would be a better President than everyone else running. Where did he get such a bizarre idea? He can’t even blame Obama for it: much of the current President’s failure is based on his complete lack of executive experience and ability. How does that argue for a successor with even less of both? Carson has been wasting our time, and at this point, that’s a tangible offense against the United States of America, which really has to find someone trustworthy and competent. The search is not going well.

5. The moderators (Kelly, Chris Wallace and Bret Baier) were unfocused and unprofessional. One commentator suggested that they were trying to make up for the absence of Trump by trying to spark fights between the other candidates and directly attacking the candidates themselves, with Kelly as the lead attack dog. “It’s a debate, sir!” Chris Wallace protested when Cruz whined about this, but a debate is supposed to explicate policy differences, not be a series of “gotcha’s.”

Who was served by the Cruz-Rubio or Rubio-Bush “You changed your position-Yeah, but you did it worse!” exchanges? When they weren’t trying provoke mano a mano spats, they were asking trivial, bizarre questions, like the one to Jeb Bush about Puerto Rico statehood—now THERE’S a burning issue on everyone’s mind!—or how to stop the practice of charities spending too much on overhead. How about the national debt? What about climate change? In the absence of new issues—we have been around the barn on health care, Iran, Isis, national defense and immigration more than once—the candidates defaulted to familiar campaign talking points.

6. Using the Sunday morning show device of running old videos of candidates contradicting themselves is inappropriate in a debate format, especially if it is only going to be used on selected candidates, in this case, Rubio and Cruz. Kelly defended the tactic in the post-debate show. She’s wrong. What moderators should explore are the current positions of the candidates now; if another candidate wants to point to a flip-flop, that why it’s called a debate. (I say this even as I would swoon with joy to see a moderator of a Democratic candidates debate play Hillary’s “vast right wing conspiracy” clip and ask her, “Can you say that you were not completely aware of the truth of those accusations against your husband when you went on national TV and said that?”)

7.  The use of Google YouTube channel “stars” to ask questions may be lucrative for Fox and Google or have some other corporate benefits, but as a debate feature it was worthless. If such guest questioners are going to be used at all, they should be chosen on the basis of their questions’ validity and relevance. The last “star,” Muslim blogger Nabela Noor, grinned like a zany as she asked a vague question about how the candidates would avoid the stigmatizing of emerging Muslim immigrant entrepreneurs. First, she blurred the lines between immigrant and illegal immigrants, a Democrat trick; second, nobody is advocating adverse measures against American citizen entrepreneurs no matter where they came from, and finally, the debate had already covered the Muslim immigrant issue ad nauseum. This was incompetent debate management. Noor has apparently compared Trump to Adolf Hitler on her YouTube channel, and is a Sanders supporter, and some pundits argue that this made her an inappropriate questioner. It’s the question that matters, not the questioner. It did seem that all three of the “YouTube stars” chosen were there to annoy Donald Trump, making the feature look  biased as well as lame.

UPDATE: As I thought and hoped, Trumps boast that debate ratings would be down without him was dead wrong. Hubris. Remember that word. It is very important to predicting Trump’s ultimate destiny.


22 thoughts on “Considering The Fox Trump-less GOP Candidates Debate

  1. Do you think this is where Trump finally starts to fizzle, this is where he starts to go third party, or that this is where the GOP starts to fall apart completely?

    • 1. I’m betting that the Caucus system, as it has before, defeats a frontrunner.
      2. Absent the mantle of a frontrunner—no candidate in memory has depended so much on the assumed validity conferred by polls—Trump’s voters will get bored, drop out, or move elsewhere.
      3. He let Rubio back in the race. Rubio still the most electable candidate the GOP has.
      4. Trump will not go third party only to be a spoiler, as petty as he is.
      5. His pot shots from the sidelines won’t have any effect.
      6. Once Trump is out of the way, this process will have made the GOP stronger. His supporters like Palin and Coulter are termites at this point.
      7.The Democrats are in more trouble organizationally than the GOP.
      8. One major terrorist attack on US soil by “the JV”, and Republicans sweep everything in sight, as Hillary and Bernie’s refusal to oppose Obama becomes an anchor. Between now and November, I wouldn’t bet against it. One major incursion by Iran—same thing. Another recession—same thing. A Clinton indictment, a smoking IRS gun…so many possible horrors, each less than likely, collectively looming and very possible.

      • 3. Rubio??

        8. I’ve thought that for a while, that Trump was rolling the dice on another Muslim extremist attack in America, and that the lack of one since San Bernardino has backfired on him. I wonder if the “less than likely” was wrong, I think a Clinton indictment is looming, and more than likely and with the price of oil bottoming out from the lifting of US sanctions a recession is almost certain. That might not happen in time though…. Or is that why you called these things less than likely? Likely to happen eventually, but perhaps after.

          • My own theory about this is that he’ll use the threat of a third party run to continue to dominate the news cycle through the primaries with will he/won’t he. Since it is all about the “art of the deal” for him, he sticks around until the party and the presumptive nominee are pretty much forced to make some sort of arrangement with him to go away. What do they give him to both endorse and shut up? He’s made his positions on controlling politicians very clear; it seems that he may be angling to own a president rather than be one.

  2. 5. Rand Paul did try to talk about the budget defect. That has to count for something.

    Puerto Rico, a question about something unexpected does serve to knock a candidate off their talking points and come up with an answer on the fly meaning they can’t just memorize the answers to likely questions and a few zingers to get by.

    • I actually think Rand did a bang-up job last night. He didn’t get much time, but the time he did get he used well. He absolutely tore Rubio’s throat out on immigration (rightly so). The thing is, he’s still not the right guy for the job, and luckily I don’t think this improved his chances so much as shifted some numbers around at the top. And his supporters in the crowd were annoying.

    • I’m not sure how he answered, but “they should remain a commonwealth” is always the right one. At least with Puerto Ricans, it is.

  3. Absent Trump, this was the most substantive debate so far. I’m for Rubio, though his youth is problematic. In a talk-back afterwards, 100% of participants would like to see Rubio win the nomination; only about 50% thought he could win it. Too bad.

    I am so sick of Cruz that I try tune him out, but can’t. His egotism, narcissism, actually rivals Hillary. A loser. At least I hope. (Also, he really, really needs a coach for this kind of thing. He is just awful in the debates.)

    Agree that Fox News is a bunch of lightweights. Unfortunately, our only other options are CNN and MSNBC — both flacks for the Democrats and Hillary. Can only hope the FBI report on Hillary’s e-mails comes out in time; of course Obama’d Justice Department will not indict, but with any good reporting that will so outrage thinking people (we are so few, but perhaps this number will grow) that Hillary’s candidacy will be dead. Dead. Fingers crossed.

  4. Overall, I was kinda disappointed in the debate.

    Is it just me or are others noticing an over tone difference in the debates as opposed to ones 20+ years ago; debates now seem to be heavily veering away from real policy questions, answers, and discussion in favor of encouraging open sniping between the candidates?

    I don’t agree with everything from any of the candidates but if I had to make my choice right now from the candidates, I’d rather see a Rubio/Christie or Christie/Rubio GOP ticket than any other ticket possibility from the current candidates.

  5. Actually Cruz’s response to MK’s question about the elephant not in the room was fine with me. He rightly pointed out with humor Trump’s primary tactic which is to insult the other candidates including himself. I’m glad Trump’s media event tanked in ratings.

    • Regardless of any superficial popularity it may have had, I’m certain many people immediately recognized the cynical and abusive “lemme use some veterans to pose with” shark jump…

  6. “First, participants must have equal opportunity to initiate and continue communicative acts. Second, participants must have equal opportunity to present arguments, explanations, interpretations, and justifications; no significant opinions should go unexamined.” (Ess., 2014). I believe with Trump not being there for this debate, this didn’t give him the equal opportunities that he should have been given in the debate. Though I am not “for” Trump, he should have been able to argue his points. I believe this is unethical because of the people that get to stick up for themselves when “shots get fired” at them, but he didn’t. Also Ess (2014) explains in which people put information out there on social media as publicity options. This is a huge deal in this presidential campaign because each candidate wants to get their names out there, but also have the opportunity to bash on the other candidates via social media like twitter. As stated in this article, candidates will use their resources like “Youtube” stars to get their news out there. Another words, I believe that the candidates think that any publicity is good publicity, as long as their name is in someone else’s mouth.

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