When Debates Attack

I did not watch the Republican presidential primary debate last night on CNBC. I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to evaluate the debate by observing the reactions of others, and do so without the skewing variable of my own impressions.

The results are informative, to say the least.

Last night’s debate is alternatively being described as a disaster, and a debate that certain people are alleged to have “won”.  According to some, the debate questions bordered on juvenile, and were so lacking in substance that Chris Christie brought the crowd to their feet by merely pointing that out.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Riebus tweeted “CNBC should be ashamed of how this debate was handled”.  He also complained about “gotcha questions” and the “hostile” environment that CNBC created.  And the candidates themselves described the format as a “free for all” between the candidates.

If the real complaint is that the format encouraged one-on-one exchanges between the candidates, it is fair to ask how was last night different from any of the previous debates?   Last night was, if anything, a slight deviation from the previous debates where the candidates were encouraged to “debate” one another.

Yet, there is near unanimity that it produced “winners”.   From what I have heard so far today, Marco Rubio is widely seen as having prevailed, with Donald Trump being lauded to a lesser degree.  Apparently, Rubio earned his victory by reprimanding Jeb Bush, who had reprimanded Rubio for missing votes in the Senate while he campaigns for president.  I don’t know if Rubio can actually be cast as a genuine victor.  I do know that Rubio’s attendance record in the Senate will not factor into a single decision he makes if he is elected president.

For his part, Donald Trump took credit for having “negotiated” the length of the debate down to 2 hours.  In other words, he was able to reduce the amount of information Americans can utilize to choose a candidate.  Trump again took on the media, and scored.   And that’s because Americans are eager to reward anyone who attacks the media for its bias.  However, when it comes to demanding an unbiased forum where our national issues could be honestly debated by serious people, Americans evince decidedly less zeal.

Most of the coverage before the debate pertained to the ratings boost that CNBC could be expected to enjoy as a result of hosting a Republican debate.  And why is that?  Because previous debates, where the candidates were encouraged to attack one another, were reported to have “shattered” ratings for the respective networks.  But consider this: the highest rated debate this cycle attracted less than a quarter of people who voted in the last presidential election.   Stated another way, what you are seeing is statistical evidence of a failed industry.

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Rob Kilmer, the President of You Defend It, Inc. is a lawyer with a litigation practice in upstate New York.  He hosted the “You Defend It with Rob Kilmer” radio show until 2009 and since then has produced You Defend It debates..  He worked as a guest commentator for CBS4 in Miami during the 2012 Presidential debates, and Pulitzer Leonard Pitts Jr. wrote a piece on him called: “A Solution for Loud, Empty Talk”.

Mr. Kilmer’s initiative focuses on current, divisive issues, and provides members of the public with an opportunity to witness a dignified debate, the purpose of which is to identify how people’s lives will actually be affected by the outcome of the issue being debate.  Towards that end, You Defend It debates are governed by two, simple rules: 1) each debater must directly answer the question asked; and 2) each must do so without a single reference to his or her opponent’s argument, party or (presumed) political philosophy.  In other words, each debater is expected to show up at the debate with his or her own solution – and defend it.


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“If you say it, prove it – because we live with the consequences.”

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