In an earlier article this week, Mortal Allies Make Strange Bedfellows, we saw why the Republican candidates planned to wrest control of future debates from the Republican National Committee (RNC) and mainstream media. This post will examine what happened in just the first question of the third Republican Presidential candidates’ #debate hosted by #CNBC.
Donald Trump and Ben Carson had negotiated an agreement with CNBC for the third debate to last only two hours, including commercials rather than exclusive of them. CNBC also had agreed to allow opening and closing statements from each candidate.
While the candidates were given the opportunity to make closing statements, they were deprived of the chance to make opening statements as promised. Instead, the candidates were greeted with the ultimate “gotcha” question as an initial query: “In thirty seconds,…what is your biggest weakness, and what are you doing to address it?”
This highly insulting question, with a ridiculous 30-second time limit, was asked by Carl Quintanilla. The question made as much sense this one: “In thirty seconds, tell us your thoughts about G-d, and what do you do about people who do not agree with you?” There was no substantive value to Quintanilla’s question, except to give the Democrats some useful video clips to use against the eventual Republican nominee.
The full question actually was: “This series of debates is essentially a job interview with the American people. And in any job interview, you know this: you get asked, ‘what’s your biggest weakness?’ So in 30 seconds, without telling us that you try too hard or that you’re a perfectionist…what is your biggest weakness and what are you doing to address it? We’ll go left to right. Governor Kasich, 30 seconds.”
Kasich: “Good question, but I want to tell you, my great concern is that we are on the verge, perhaps, of picking someone who cannot do this job.”
Kasich then proceeded to ignore the question asked and instead responded to the question he wanted to answer, a classic technique of politicians. Can one blame him? He was the first candidate to speak in the debate, and was blindsided by a “gotcha” question instead of having the chance they all expected to give an opening statement. So that is just what Kasich did, by deflecting the question and giving his planned opening statement.
The next three candidates deftly combined weak answers to the ludicrous question with effective segues into their own opening statements. Good politics answering shoddy media manipulation.
#Donald Trump was the first candidate to call “foul” on CNBC for having lied to the candidates. Trump addressed this betrayal by CNBC directly, but not many recognized it at that time or since. I believe Trump was speaking directly to CNBC when he answered,
I think maybe my greatest weakness is that I trust people too much. I’m too trusting. And when they let me down, if they let me down, I never forgive. I find it very, very hard to forgive people that deceived me.
Yes, CNBC, that means you.
CNBC clearly deceived all the candidates and acted in bad faith by replacing the expected opening statement with such a foolish question. Yet what penalty could be exacted? So far, the RNC has cancelled the February NBC presidential debate. But that is not enough to prevent such outrageous behavior in the future. It will be interesting to see how the candidates’ coalition develops a debate structure that will satisfy all the candidate stakeholders, since the RNC has already proven itself incapable of the task.
One reasonable improvement would be to have a chess clock for each candidate to ensure equal total time for each speaker. As currently constructed, there is no penalty for a candidate who interrupts or tries to hog the time. If there be any extra time left for a candidate after the questions ended but before closing statements, that time could be added to the closing statement time.
I have suggested that the RNC (or now the candidates’ coalition, perhaps) should simply buy the two hours of cable time like any corporation, and sell its own commercials to recoup some or all of the cost. Then the Republicans can control the format of the debate, ensuring equal time for candidates and sufficient opportunity to explain their positions.
Another possibility is to broadcast the debate on the Internet, making it freely available. Given the public’s limited access to some of the cable stations, this may well expose the debate to a larger audience. I am confident that whatever the resulting debates, they will improve the Republican nominee’s chances of winning next November—rather than diminish them as the RNC has managed to do.