Making presidential debates relevant — at last - GulfToday

Making presidential debates relevant — at last

Martin Schram

Columnist and author

Donald Trump and Joe Biden participate in the first presidential debate at the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.  File/Tribune News Service

Donald Trump and Joe Biden participate in the first presidential debate at the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. File/Tribune News Service

Don’t give up hope. Even though you’ve now endured your fourth night of crosstalk cacophony that has passed for debating in the 2023 run amok run-up to Campaign 2024. Of course, you realise history will dismiss all four so-called debates for their obvious irrelevance to the ultimate decision-making of your fellow 2024 Republican voters. After all, it was the fourth debate night in which you never saw or heard from the candidate who half of your fellow Republicans seem ready to hail as their chief. Yet again.

But before you despair, there is a chance (just an outside chance!) that the Republicans who are still running — and all your fellow distressed Republicans who may still be watching — can experience what we used to call a real presidential primary campaign. Complete with presidential primary debates that are actually relevant. It still can happen. But only if we help by reminding our best-known television journalists (who pretty much run things in our news screen age of video politics) of the one thing they have overlooked so far. They need to make the debates they run, well, debatable.

Luckily, this is their made-for-TV moment. And they have all they need to make it happen before January’s Iowa Republican caucus and New Hampshire Republican primary. And yes, it can happen even if Donald Trump isn’t on stage (because he prefers performing solo or is precluded by priorities of courtship with Lady Justice).

Let’s start by deciding that CNN’s Jan. 10 debate in Iowa will be about the one over-arching question that may transcend all other national and global issues: what sort of presidential leadership does America require most of all in this tumultuous time? Let a screen be set up on the stage, precisely where former president Donald Trump would be standing along with the other presidential candidates. Trump’s overwhelming lead in the polls means (as is tradition) that he’s earned the privilege of being in the centre of the line of candidates — and speaks first. And television producers have ample video of Trump talking in top performance mode about the presidential leadership he will provide — and specifics of what he will do as our next president. So let Trump speak for himself: “We pledge to you that we will root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country that lie and steal and cheat on elections. They’ll do anything, whether legally or illegally, to destroy America and to destroy the American Dream.” (That was from Trump’s speech commemorating Veteran’s Day.) Then, one by one, ask Trump’s opponents to discuss whether their Republican front-runner’s vision of presidential leadership coincides with their vision, or what they might do differently. If his vision is challenged and a rebuttal is called for, CNN’s debate producers must be prepared to show video of Trump’s supporting and elaborating insights in that same New Hampshire speech, as he proclaims himself a “very proud election denier.”

And to assure Trump’s defence of himself is adequately presented, CNN’s debate producers can show Trump providing further analysis of the 2020 election. For example, last March he provided this election elaboration to the Conservative Political Action Conference: “I won the second election, OK, won it by a lot. You know, when they say, when they say Biden won, the smart people know that didn’t (happen).” Other candidates would then be invited to discuss how their view of leadership might differ from Trump’s. And when one of them mentioned the unsolved problems at America’s southern border, Trump’s leadership vision could be memorably presented.

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