When I first heard the news that Donald Trump was threatening to boycott the next Republican debate (news about Carson came later), I thought it was another example of Trump’s signature tendency: he cannot thrive without drama and enemies. But I confess that when I heard the demands, I thought they had merit.
To be clear, it’s definitely also Trump’s love of drama. But here’s my thinking on this. The Democrats’ debate had opening statements and closing statements. While the opening statements were going on I was hearing people say that Fox did better by going straight to questions and dispensing with the canned opening remarks. I think that may be right that it made for better television. But I think having them made for a better debate. Canned or not, it’s valuable to see how a candidate chooses to present their campaign in a minute or two, without a forced question or a back and forth with another candidate.
We can see why the candidates like it. But I think it’s valuable for voters as well. Contemporary debates – unlike some in the past – certainly are not lacking for one on one confrontations between the candidates or between candidates and the questioners.
Second is length. Running more than two hours and sometimes as long as three hours, the debates are simply too long. One might argue that the more questions the better and who cares whether the candidates legs get tired. But having watched a few of these, sorry, they’re just too long. I get the distinct sense that everybody’s getting a bit punch drunk by the end.
I don’t know whether the networks are actually stringing out the debates to sell more ad time. But it doesn’t seem like a crazy idea. And it’s tough for me to think of another rationale, frankly.
So, strange as it may seem and strange as they no doubt are, I think Trump and Carson had a good point on this one.