Debates

Why GOP Debates Should Be Moderated by Limbaugh and Hannity

The Republican Men's Chorus, circa 2012.
Today, the Republican National Committee is expected to pass a resolution declaring that CNN and NBC are big liberal meanies and they don't want to go play over at their house ever ever ever again. Or more particularly, since the two networks had been planning to produce shows about Hillary Clinton, the RNC is going to protest by refusing to allow either of them to sponsor primary debates during the presidential campaign of 2016. This bit of foot-stomping has prompted some on the right to argue that the party should just forego non-Fox network-sponsored debates altogether and have their confabs moderated by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. I'm with Kevin Drum on this: It's a great idea. Republicans are convinced that previous debates have been problematic because the network talking heads who moderate them are a bunch of liberal activists trying to trip them up, a critique which is always wrong . The problem isn't that the network personalities are liberals, it's that they...

And Best Supporting Zinger Goes To...

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Pool-Win McNamee) Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama answer a question during the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, October 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Florida. R ight, so the 2012 presidential debates are done with at last—triggering, as predictably as natural disasters produce fundamentalist sermons, a stew of grousing in Wonkland about their shallowness, triviality, and failure to articulate much of substance about whatever issues made the cut. Everybody had a laundry list of topics that never got broached at all (global warming and torture were just two of the big ones). But from my unwonky perspective, complaints of this nature reflect an either earnest or wilful inability to recognize the nature of the beast. All that counts—to the electorate, to the campaigns, and even to the outcome on November 6, which means to history—is whether they were good TV. If that sounds cynical, I don't mean it to be. I'm a pop critic,...

Moderate Mitt Takes on Israel

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
The final American presidential debate aired in the small hours of the Middle Eastern night. An Israeli who stayed up to watch was rewarded by learning some new facts from Mitt Romney: Iran is a land-locked country with access to the sea only through Syria. Romney believes America can push Israel and the Palestinians toward peace, and he faults President Barack Obama for failing to do so. An Israeli viewer could learn that Romney would not rush breakneck into war to stop the Iranian nuclear program. An Israeli, that is, could conclude along with Americans that Mitt Romney has an identical twin whom he sent to debate in his place. In their views of the world, Mitt and his look-alike share only one thing: a blurred map of the Middle East in which Syria has borders with both Iran and the West Bank. Unlike Mitt, the brother is not bound to policies designed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and multi-national campaign funder Sheldon Adelson. Obama regularly, forcefully reminded...

The "Apology Tour" Lives On

Flickr/micagoto
During last night's debate, when Mitt Romney started to go off on his usual "apology tour" line, President Obama got a little smile on his face. Here it comes, I thought—he knew Romney might say this, and he's got a killer response ready. After all, there may be no single falsehood Romney has repeated more often than this one. It's simply a lie, Mitt Romney knows it's a lie, it's been fact-checked to death so every journalist knows it's a lie, and now at last Obama would smack it down and we wouldn't have to hear it anymore. No such luck. Obama's response was to assert that Romney's charge is false ("This has been probably the biggest whopper that’s been told during the course of this campaign") without explaining why or finding a way to shame Romney for his shamelessness. And the Romney campaign was so pleased they put out an ad today revisiting the moment: Point out to conservatives that Obama has never apologized for America, and they'll say, "Nuh-uh! What about that time he said...

The Neocons' Long Game

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Pool, Win McNamee) President Barack Obama answers a question as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney listens during the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, October 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Florida. M ost of the snap polls taken after last night's foreign policy debate, the last before the November 6 election, gave the win the President Obama—if not an outright knockout then at least a TKO on points. But beyond the candidates themselves, the debate did have one clear loser: neoconservatives. During the many years Mitt Romney has been running for president, he's taken a number of fluid positions on foreign policy. In addition to reflecting Romney's character as an eager-to-please shape-shifter, the changing positions also represent a genuine—and growing—policy tension among foreign policy factions within the GOP establishment. Even though old school realists like Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft retain some influence, and more isolationist voices...

Mitt Romney, Language Cop

Mitt Romney, saying things.
There were a number of strange moments in last night's debate, the most substantively meaningful of which was almost certainly Mitt Romney's declaration that "when I’m president, we'll make sure we bring our troops out [of Afghanistan] by the end of 2014." For the last year, Romney has been criticizing Barack Obama for having precisely this position, saying that we can't tell the enemy when we're leaving and our departure has to be determined by events on the ground. In the foreign policy version of Moderate Mitt, that apparently is no longer operative. But the oddest thing Romney said had to be this: "I'd make sure that Ahmadinejad is indicted under the Genocide Convention. His words amount to genocide incitation. I would indict him for it." As I've observed before , Romney's critique of Obama on foreign policy has always been primarily linguistic. He takes issue not with what the President has done, but what he has said. He apologizes for America! He didn't use the word "terror"! He...

A Good Debate, But Will Voters Notice?

(AP Photo/David Goldman)
(AP Photo/David Goldman) President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney shake hands following their third presidential debate in Boca Raton, Florida. Obama did very well in the foreign-policy debate, but it remains to be seen if his success will change the trajectory of the race, which has been trending toward Romney. Several things about this debate were a surprise. The most surprising thing was the emergence of Mild Mitt. Romney sounded almost as if he were on downers. His campaign must have decided that he was coming across as too ferocious or two bellicose. But his performance tonight was underwhelming. Obama, by contrast, took the debate to Romney right from the first exchange. He was almost too aggressive, calling the former Massachusetts governor on his inconsistencies and policy recommendations that would have backfired. “Every time you’ve offered an opinion, you’ve been wrong,” the president said. But Romney did not take the bait. The other odd thing...

Horses and Bayonets and GIFs, Oh My!

The candidates agree we should build economies abroad. The candidates agree we should educate women. The candidates agree on how to handle Syria. The candidates agree we should build our economy at home. Like, they reeeeallly agree that the domestic economy is important. Wait, are we still watching the foreign policy debate? Is Bob Schieffer still here? Mitt refers us to his website to explain how he'd pay to grow the military. Horses and bayonets! Finally something worth tweeting about! But, uh, we need to be thinking about defending ourselves in space? The candidates agree they loooove Israel. Ok seriously, do they agree on everything? Crippling sanctions. Mitt loves crippling sanctions. Bob Schieffer asks, "What's the deal?" The candidates agree they both love drones. We all love teachers! Mitt says we should vote for him. Obama says we should vote for him. Thank god these debates are over.

Obama's Total Knockout

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
(AP Photo/Pool-Win McNamee) Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama answer a question during the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, October 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Florida. S o far, the conventional wisdom for the presidential debates has been on target. Pundits correctly saw the first debate as an outstanding victory for Mitt Romney, and the second as basically a draw, with Barack Obama winning a small victory and stopping the bleeding of the previous engagement. For the final presidential debate—a bout over foreign policy, held in Boca Raton, Florida—the conventional wisdom is that Obama won, handily, but that Romney proved himself capable of taking over as commander-in-chief. I’m not so sure. It’s not that Romney performed poorly—he was mediocre from beginning to end—as much as it is that he already passed that plausibility test. It seems that in the excitement of the debate, pundits have forgotten that Romney’s image as a...

The Third Debate: New Topic, Same Empty Taste

(AP Photo/Mario Tama, Pool)
(AP Photo/David Goldman, File) President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney exchange views during the second presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. B arack Obama and Mitt Romney will meet tonight to discuss foreign affairs, and there's one thing I can predict with near-certainty: This discussion will be just as vacuous as the rest of the campaign. Which is too bad, because on foreign policy, the president's own personal interests, beliefs, and biases matter much more than they do on domestic policy. An inordinate amount of time is spent during the campaign trying to pin down who the candidates are deep in their hearts, when in so many areas it doesn't matter at all. In the domestic realm, presidents are constrained by what Congress is willing to do and by their own party's priorities. Mitt Romney will seek to cut taxes, roll back regulations protecting the environment and workers' rights, cut...

The Last Debate

Expect Obama to try to focus on Osama bin Laden and the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while Romney tries to steer things toward China.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
Planning on catching snippets of the final presidential debate tonight during time-outs on Monday Night Football? The game is tight, there are only two weeks left on the clock, and tonight is the last time that the candidates will face off in an attempt to connect with undecided voters. Here’s what to look out for after kick-off in Boca Raton. First of all, this is Mitt Romney’s final opportunity to differentiate himself from President Obama on matters of foreign policy and national security, the subject of tonight’s debate. This has been a struggle for the former Massachusetts governor. As many commentators have noted, Romney has cited few concrete differences between his foreign-policy vision and that of the president beyond calling for astronomically higher defense spending and saying he would not “apologize for America.“ Analyst Sanho Tree summarizes Romney’s approach: “Me too, but I'll be even more belligerent because Obama is a wimp.” The trick for Romney will be to seem...

It's All In the Words

Flickr/Pierre Metivier
When Barack Obama and Mitt Romney got into their little back-and-forth over Benghazi last night, I tweeted that it would probably going to get more press attention than anything that happened in the debate, yet of all the topics they addressed, it may be the least relevant to which of these two would make a better president. And here we are. Think about this: the argument isn't about what sort of policy we should be pursuing toward Libya, or how we can address anti-Americanism or terrorism, or what sort of security our embassies and consulates should have. Instead, it's about which words Obama said on which day . Seriously. And you wonder why people are cynical about politics. All along, Republicans have been acting as though within hours of the attack, had Obama said, "This was a terroristic terror attack, full of terrorizing terror," then ... what, exactly? The perpetrators would have turned themselves in? Potential al-Qaeda recruits would have said, "Hold on—this is a terrorist...

No, Candy Crowley Did Not Show Any Favoritism

Candy Crowley questions President Obama during last night's debate
Before last night's debate, both the Obama and Romney camps expressed their concern that moderator Candy Crowley might go rogue and act like something resembling a journalist, not merely keeping time and introducing questioners but interjecting to get clarifications and ask follow-ups. Once the debate was over, it was only conservatives complaining about her. Some found her biased from start to finish, but all criticized her for her intervention on the somewhat absurd question of what words President Obama used and when to describe the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. But a close look at what went on in the debate reveals that Crowley was actually judiciously even-handed, and if anything, may have done more favors for Romney. Before we discuss how, here are some of the reactions from the right: "We're done with the second presidential debate, but it was apparent 45 minutes in that between the questions Crowley chose and her handling of who was allowed to speak and when, that...

A Binder Full of Beers

(Sipa via AP Images)
Monica Potts F or Republican supporters of Mitt Romney in Denver—site of Romney’s triumph in the first debate over the president two weeks ago—Tuesday night’s town hall was marked with energized anticipation. Romney had rescued them from a lackluster summer, and they were ready to celebrate even before moderator Candy Crowley introduced her first Town Hall participant. Around 50 people came to The Tavern downtown straight after work for a debate-watching party held by the Romney campaign. It began at 7 p.m. for those of us in Denver, which meant one thing to these voters: Happy Hour. Susan Rutherford and Brian Wong, friends who both work for a health-care company based here, sat in the middle of the bar eating appetizers across from a wall of seven flat-screen TVs, all turned to Fox News. Rutherford said the first debate had not only energized voters, but probably tilted more undecided voters into the Romney camp as well. “They saw more of the truth of who Romney is,” she says. “I...

The Town Hall Debate: A Binder of GIFs

Why does the Republican always win the coin toss? Mitt promises a job to a soon-to-be-college-grad. Mitt says that Obama bankrupted the auto industry. Obama decides to show up this time. The candidates both love "clean" coal. Mitt makes "middle-class tax cuts" sound better than Obama does. Obama tries to parse Mitt's deficit math. Apparently, our economy is on "the road to Greece"? Obama on the way back to his stool: Mitt's "binders full of women": Every woman watching: Mitt says the time-keepers are broken. Candy shuts him down. Mitt says "every woman in America should have access to contraceptives." OMG CHINA IS SO SCARY. Mitt refers to "undocumented illegals." But Obama also says he's into deportation. Obama owns his answer about recent terrorism in Libya ... ... and Candy's fact-check backs him up. Obama calls for a comprehensive gun-control strategy. Mitt's answer to gun violence: marriage. Obama to Romney: .

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