Or at least wishes debate moderators would ask better ones, anyway. My answer is that candidates are ruthlessly trained to flip any difficult question back to their comfort zone, and to simply ignore issues that don’t suit the preferences of the base. So even a diligent moderator is going to give up at some point and just revert to throwing red meat at both sides. But it’s a good question.
So far, the debates on both the Republican and Democratic side of the primary race have been nothing if not thoroughly entertaining. In fact, I would say most of them have been pretty good and reasonably substantive. Of course that has been solely the result of some very good moderators who ask tough follow up questions. Neil Cavuto and Maria Bartiromo notwithstanding.
However, there is one recurring pattern I constantly find myself wondering about. Why don’t the debate moderators ask more questions outside of the candidates’ comfort zone? Why do they ask questions that only seem to be of interest to their respective bases?
People on either side of the political spectrum always criticize the opposing party candidates for never mentioning their pet issue(s). “Republicans never talk about climate change.” “Democrats never mention terrorism.” And while it would be nice to see candidates voluntarily bring some of these issues up, it is pretty tough for them to do it when they are never asked about them.
Why do moderators tend to go light on national security questions during the Democratic debates? With the exception of the debate just a few days after the Paris attacks, this topic is usually relegated to the back burner. It took nearly 90 minutes for the topic to come up in last Sunday’s debate. With ISIS now a major issue, Russia meddling in Ukraine, and China continuing to exert more power and influence, it would be nice if Hillary, Bernie, and O’Malley were asked more questions on how, specifically, they would deal with these issues.
And when was the last time the GOP candidates were asked about rampant speculation on Wall Street, how to actually raise middle class wages, climate change, police brutality, and institutional racism in our justice system? No demands for specific policy proposals or positions on these issues?
I don’t get it. Just because the party voters may not want to talk about some of these issues, does not mean they will magically disappear if their candidate is our next president.
Even when moderators do a good job asking follow up questions to the GOP candidates to nail them down on their positions and proposals on guns and foreign policy, it allows them to basically reword their stump speech to rile up their base. Same goes for the Democrats. When they are asked questions on college affordability, they simply revert to talking points used to fire up their loyalists.
Let’s put Democrats on the record on how they would deal with China expanding its influence in the South China Sea. Or how they would respond if Iran cheats on the nuclear agreement.
Let’s put the facts about climate change and institutional racism in front of the GOP candidates and have them go on record on how or if they would work to resolve it.
Candidates are not going to discuss topics they are not asked about. It is up to the moderators to change that. And they should. It would make these debates so much better.