That botched debate. 6 lessons

By Taxpayers Association of Oregon

Here are six things that went wrong with the Republican Primary Presidential debate.

#1. Time control chaos.  Did Fox News not learn anything from the Chris Wallace debate disaster of 2020 where candidates rolled over him like he wasn’t even in the room?  There was no buzzer enforcement as candidates took full advantage and just went haywire — the worst offender, Mike Pence, just robotically started blurting out statements at random times even when the moderator was introducing the next question.   The fix is simple.  If a candidate goes over time, just keep hitting the buzzer until they stop.  Cut off their microphone if you have to.

#2. Bring back opening statements.  Why did Fox ban opening statements by the candidates?   Banning opening statements did not make this disappear, but rather they were shoved into later questions as candidates were desperate to introduce themselves and their unique qualities.  Let the candidate spend 90 seconds explaining who they are and laying out their best one-liners at the beginning.

#3. Lift the ban on debate clips. It appears that Fox News is limiting how much debate clips (only 3 minutes) that other news sites and commentators can use from the debate.   The debate is a public forum and public service, not a pay-per-view event.(update: this has been reversed)

#4. Close the debate loophole. One candidate Asa Hutchinson, achieved his fundraising qualifications for the debate by offering people $20 if they would donate $1 to the campaign and find one other person to donate $1.   This was a way to pay people to donate to the campaign and make it look like the candidate had fundraising support, when it was just a pyramid scheme.

#5. 8 candidates was grossly unnecessary.  Having 8 candidates featured early in a non-incumbent race may work in some years — but not in 2023 where the former President is running and holds a strong polling lead.  The debate needed to adapt to the moment and have no more than 5 candidates on stage, as they deserved to have quality time to make their case.

#6. Stop the stupid hand-raising gimmicks.   Asking candidates to vote with their hands on broad-based questions is a political gimmick and is being done for ratings.   Hand-raising may work for specific questions (would you vote for this specific gun bill, for instance).  It was a better moment in the debate when DeSantis jumped in and said “Stop treating us like children” and then proceeded to ignore the hand-raising and get to the heart of the question asked.

Bonus observation: Fox News opened the event by showing the song “Rich Men North of Richmond”.  This website featured an article about this within a few days of this song viral.   That was a timely cultural benchmark.  But then Fox News made the song one of the few rare questions given in the debate to the candidates, and then they showed-off the song again a few minutes later.   At that point, the debate producers were taking advantage of the song.  So much, that the artists, Oliver Anthony just did a video saying he felt cheated by having his song used as such in the debate and even worse he said the song was about such politicians on the stage.  Ouch!   Lesson to candidates and Fox News — don’t overplay your hand on authentic viral social movements.