The third Republican presidential debate is set to begin tonight. With fewer then ninety days before the symbolically but not particularly politically meaningful Iowa Caucuses, the media has decided this debate is going to matter. Politico has already come out with its list of “five things to watch” during the debate. As with all Politico articles on the subject of presidential debates it follows the same formula of posing the same several rhetorical questions:
-Is this month’s break out candidate going to have a star performance or fizzle out and die?
-Who should have given up already and why haven’t they? Bonus points if there’s a push poll asking who should drop out at the end of the debate at the bottom of the article.
-Which candidate’s backstory still needs to be covered?
-What juicy personal exchanges should we all be eagerly looking forward to?
That about covers the Politico presidential debate article formula. It doesn’t get any more complicated; they clearly don’t want readers venturing into some kind of discomfort zone where they may think critically about the candidates and about how infantile these debates have been so far.
Republicans this cycle may have, in fact, killed off the American love affair with the presidential debate, and even if they haven’t yet I personally hope they do. With a few exceptions, performance in a debate is a miserable metric with which to judge whether a presidential candidate will make an adequate leader of the free world. Questions about the job itself are rarely if ever asked. Instead we have to put up with questions about the various candidates’ levels of experience, which given that none of them has been president before seems pretty irrelevant. We must endure pointless lightning rounds where candidates are forced to answer yes or no questions. We must gaze on as the tribe of old white men who command the conservative movement like televangelists in a revivalist tent clutch the edges of their podiums and blather on about how they agree on every question but are still somehow substantially different in political philosophy than their opponents.
Really the whole thing is a waste of time. This debate, like the two before it, will tell us absolutely nothing about the Republican candidates for president except perhaps remind us all of how unbelievably out of touch they really are.