Maybe it really is for the best if each party’s primary debates were held only in friendly territory. Rachel Maddow did a find job with the Dems, and conservative-leaning Fox Business News simply embarrassed their competitors at CNBC with the GOP circus. No sneering, no gotcha questions, no naked contempt. The CNBC moderators advertised just how much better they thought they were than the candidates, which led viewers to conclude the opposite. Not with FBN’s mods. The worst you could say is that they provided the candidates ample opportunities to self-destruct.
Which is what they should do. These things should allow the strong to thrive and the weak to perish. Debates shouldn’t involve nasty hectoring from the moderators, but neither should it be kisses and unicorns and rainbows. Maria Bartiromo, Neil Cavuto, and Gerard Baker largely stepped out of the way as Kasich spectacularly imploded on national television, with a performance that made Jeb in the last debate look like Cicero. Even though he’s the most liberal of the group, and I should therefore like him the best, I found him just irritating, annoying, and clueless.
The toughest questions of the candidates were asked mainly by the other candidates — Paul was on both ends of that equation, for instance, nailing Trump while also losing an exchange with Rubio. Like I wrote before, let the candidates be the questioners of each other like this. Everybody wins, including the moderators. They aren’t here to be hostile interrogators. They are here to referee only.
The ball gets passed back to CNN for the next go-around in December. Jake Tapper did an ok job with the second debate, but it was obvious that he was under pressure from upstairs (i.e., America’s least competent media executive, Jeff Zucker) to interject himself into the proceedings and try to force fireworks with Trump. Let’s hope he, or Cooper or Blitzer or whoever gets to be MC, learns from last night and let the candidates be the ones asking each other tough questions. If they can.
Or maybe it’s only possible to have a good debate in each party’s friendly waters. Perhaps each Dem debate should be reserved for NBC-family channels, and the GOP should stick only to Fox channels, and the general election debates going to CNN and ABC. By 2020, streaming debates should also be practical. Netflix could bring in moderators from National Review and Weekly Standard for the GOP and moderators from The Nation and Slate for the Dems, and stream it ad-free for subscribers or with ads for non-subscribers. As the CNBC debacle showed, I’m not sure leftist journalists like John Harwood can help themselves but be unfair and nasty to Republicans, or vice versa (I sort of doubt Sean Hannity would make for the best moderator of a Dem debate ever). Both NBC and Fox like to pretend they’re unbiased, but come on. I’m not sure even a channel like CNN that tries to be neutral can handle these things well. I guess we’ll see December 15.