November 1, 2015

Thoughts on the CNBC Republican Debate

Ben Carson by Gage Skidmore 4.jpg
Ben Carson by Gage Skidmore 4, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons
I thought that the third Republican presidential debate was the best yet. How so? There was a bit more of a focus on policy, and it seemed like more candidates had good moments in this debate that really needed to have good moments (e.g., Kasich, Rubio, Cruz, Christie).

While I tire of all the drivel about "liberal media" bias, I thought the candidates made some excellent points about the absurdity of many of the moderators' questions. CNBC looked bad in the same ways Fox and CNN did in the previous debates, and it was great to see them called on it.

To be clear, the issue for me isn't that the candidates are being asked challenging questions; they are running for president and should be asked challenging questions. This issue is that the moderators continue trying to goad the candidates into making personal attacks on each other. Fox did this, CNN did this, and now CNBC did it too. It was nice to see some resistance to this particular tactic. I think it needs to stop and that it would be great if we saw meaningful change in future presidential debates. The debate moderators need to treat the candidates and the audience like adults and stop trying to incite conflict for the sake of conflict.

Donald Trump was a disappointment in this debate, as he now appears to be playing it safe. It is understandable why he'd do so, but I imagine this helps to explain why he has lost ground to Carson in the polls. By playing it safe, he undercuts his primary appeal. The safer he plays it, the more like a traditional politician he ends up looking.

As for Ben Carson, I am really struggling to comprehend his appeal. He seems to alternate between seeming dangerously out of touch with reality and heavily medicated. I'm not sure what Republican voters see in him. I also do not see any path through which he wins the nomination, so I guess it might not matter.

If I had to pick a winner from this debate, it would probably be Marco Rubio. While I do not care for him, I thought he came across much better in this debate than he has in the previous two. And the big loser would once again have to be Jeb Bush. He may or may not be the least objectionable of the remaining Republican candidates, but his performance in the debates has been consistently poor. In fact, I've been surprised by just how poorly he comes across. I imagine that his big-money supporters in the Republican establishment cannot be happy with what they have been seeing from him. He he hopes to defeat Rubio and his other rivals, he's going to have to try something else.

With all the controversy following this debate about the RNC boycotting NBC, it will be interesting to see what changes to the format, questions, and moderators we may see at the next one. In any case, I certainly do not envy the Republican voters trying to decide which one of these candidates deserves their vote.