Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Growing GOP Primary Circus

The list of declared and still jockeying would be GOP 2016 presidential candidates continues to grow with some like Bobby Jindal - who just signed an executive order supporting anti-gay discrimination under the ruse of "protecting religious freedom (which may prompt travel bans on Louisiana) - going to extreme lengths to prostitute themselves to the racists, homophobic, religious extremist Republican Party base.  The prospect for primary debates among these candidates is delicious to contemplate as the debates will likely be a competition of who can spew more batshitery to court the party base.  A cynical tongue in cheek piece in the New York Times argues that, if anything, the circus nature of the coming debates should be encouraged, not that some of the lunatic GOP candidates will need much help in embarrassing themselves and the nation.  Here are highlights:
[O]ne of the biggest challenges now facing America involves figuring out how the nine scheduled Republican presidential debates can be held without running afoul of local fire marshals.

As of now, there are about a dozen viable candidates and probable candidates in the field, and maybe another six or seven who could make a case they deserve one of the coveted lecterns at the debates. (And then there’s Carly Fiorina, George Pataki and possibly Donald Trump.) Where do you put them all? And, more to the point, how do you arrange the contestants in a way that is both fair to them and compelling to whoever bothers to watch? It is a logistical problem, to be sure, and also the logical consequence of a free-for-all environment where barriers to entry keep shrinking, both for the social-media-enabled peanut gallery that “covers” the campaign and the candidates who are running in it.

Fox News, which is scheduled to host the first debate of the season in August, took a stab at solving the problem on Wednesday, announcing that candidates wanting to participate must “place in the top 10 of an average of the five most recent national polls.”
Mollie Hemingway, writing in The Federalist, proposed that anyone who is allowed on the debate stage must pledge they will not sign a book or television deal for the next two years. I like this idea, not because it is enforceable (it’s not) or because any candidate would actually honor the pledge for more than one second after he or she quit the race. I like it because it goes to the basic instinct for self-promotion that has glutted the race to begin with.

For many (or most) candidates, running for president is not really about having a serious shot at the White House; it’s about reaping the profile-enhancement of going through the process. . . . .   It’s good for business; I’d venture that Rick Santorum, Herman Cain and Dennis Kucinich have bigger speaking, book and TV opportunities to show for their experiences.

No campaign ritual elevates the stature of an otherwise statureless politician more than the debate, which places him or her within spitting distance of more serious aspirants to the Oval Office. While an abjectly disastrous performance can fatally wound a serious candidacy (see Perry, Rick, 2011), for marginal candidates there’s not much downside; the price of admission is cheap and the payoff is potentially enormous.

We should worry less about doing away with the circus, and more about making the circus interesting. To that end — and since everyone else is offering them — I have a few suggestions:

Mix up the parties. Why can’t we just stick four or five leading Republicans on the same stage as Hillary Clinton and maybe a Martin O’Malley here or a Bernie Sanders there? (Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee could be alternates in case Hillary has a fundraiser or Bernie’s getting his hair done.) Cross-party debates are much more entertaining. You’ve got to figure Clinton will be an absentee punching bag at every Republican debate anyway; wouldn’t it be more interesting if she were in the room? The rest of the Republicans would go into a kind of afterthought bracket — call it the Jindal Conference — to battle it out live on C-SPAN.

Allow the candidates to question each other. Please. Even better, empower a panel of Simon Cowell types to kill the contestants’ mikes whenever answers exceed 30 seconds, or simply become tiresome.

Keep the candidates’ microphones open before and after the debates, and during commercials. Then put the audio online. The best part of C-SPAN interviews and live coverage is that they sometimes keep the audio feed alive after the main program is over — and you get to hear something that resembles a human being talking. Presidential candidates are more careful, but it’s inevitable that someone would forget and we’d get a scrap, at least, of authenticity.
Eliminate the live audience. This would spare everyone from having to hear the moderator admonish the various supporters against cheering. Or, better yet:

Rile up the live audience. Instead of insisting on decorum, let’s treat this as the full-blown spectacle it should be. Encourage supporters to cheer. Serve booze, too. Including on stage.

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