“Debates? What debates? We don’t need no stinkin’ debates!”
Depending on who you are and your particular political belief system, as well as your depth of knowledge of current events, the above quote could’ve come from any number of people in either party. Everyone knows former president Donald Trump, the owner of a 30-or so point lead in the Republican party primary race, isn’t one-hundred percent committed to the idea of appearing alongside rivals he considers “below” him in more ways than one. Likewise, some of the lower polling pols who are simply competing to be Trump’s running mate, should he end up the winner, probably aren’t relishing the thought of criticizing the frontrunner, either.
Then there are those who desperately crave and need the spotlight that nationally broadcasted forums provide, those fleeting 60- or 90-second temporal spaces to try and articulate well-worn concepts into soundbites that both grab attention and synopsize a complicated platform. Here, too, Trump seemingly has the advantage, as he’s already been president for four years and can simply state that he’s running to right the wrongs of the 2020 election as well as continue what he started in January of 2017 – to Make America Great Again.
Chances are he’d talk about COVID as little as possible and completely ignore the melee on January 6, 2021. The rest, particularly his Roe v. Wade, Biden student loan forgiveness program and affirmative action in college admissions-killing (among others) three Supreme Court appointments would allow him to dominate the topics.
But for the pieces of the Republican electorate puzzle that remain up for grabs, there’s no substitute for the Trump competitors – they need the debates like a human being needs air. Presidential campaigns tend to asphyxiate when they’re deprived of “free” establishment media coverage, which brings up another problem – apparently, not all of them will qualify under the rules.
In a piece titled “The RNC’s debate plans have a major, largely unnoticed problem”, Steven Shephard reported at Politico recently:
“Even if you’re the longest of long-shot presidential candidates, it’s pretty easy to register at 1 percent in a poll. In a survey of, say, 800 voters, all you need is 4 to say they’ll vote for you to hit that mark. The doctrine that we must round up remains a huge political gift.
“But actually meeting the Republican National Committee’s polling requirements — which holds that a candidate must earn 1 percent in three polls to participate in the party’s first primary debate next month — might be a lot harder than it looked at first blush.
“That’s because the RNC’s criteria exclude virtually all of the public surveys conducted these days, meaning there may not be many opportunities for the lower-polling candidates to even hit that 1 percent. According to the RNC’s guidelines, in order to count for debate qualifying, polls have to survey at least 800 ‘likely’ primary voters or caucus-goers. That criteria aren’t just strict — they’re unrealistic.”
I don’t often agree with anything the Politico writers have to say, but I’m with Shepherd on this one. At first glance, the qualification criteria announced by the poohbahs at the RNC a couple months ago didn’t seem all that difficult to satisfy, but I was concentrating primarily on the one percent threshold and not the little particulars of the polls themselves.
And from the get-go, Trump drew focus away from the numbers by suggesting that he might not sign the party’s symbolic and virtually meaningless loyalty pledge, like any of the field’s Trump haters would really change their minds if and when Trump wins the nomination. It’s a nothing-burger with no mustard.
But polling is very, very expensive, and typically corners a fairly big chunk of every campaign’s budget. Sending out feelers on the mood of the voters is of paramount importance when you’re counting on those anonymous people to consider you for their precious vote at primary time. Put it this way, you don’t want to be focusing solely on the Russia/Ukraine war when your data indicates the ballot casters are worried sick about inflation and fentanyl addiction in their state.
And polling is pricey because it’s an arduous process to reach the voters in the first place. The number of people who have landline phones – and actually pick them up when they ring – is dwindling, literally by the day. Cell phones are hit and miss because, if you’re anything like me, you’ve learned from experience not to answer calls from “unknown name, unknown number” much less “Spam call.”
Online polls have never been reliable because there’re too many issues with verifying opinions.
Similarly, the sheer number of requests via text engenders an instinctual reaction to them as well. If you answer them, expect a hundred more from other pollsters who find out about it and figure they’ve got a “hot one” who bothered to respond. I’ve always wondered what the positive response rate is… what, one out of five hundred? You’ve got to be nuts to hit “reply”.
As a side note, have you noticed the vast increase in shills who want to buy your house via text? The ultimate scam. They’re getting desperate.
Back to politics… One of the reasons why the RNC set the qualifying criteria so high was the need to cull the potential field down to authentic competitors before the debate season even starts. The last thing the party leaders can tolerate is another 2016-like scenario when they were forced by “fairness” to field and offer two separate programs, one for the “stars” and one for the so-called “undercard” competitors.
This was done to provide the aura of fairness, though only one candidate, Carly Fiorina, emerged (albeit temporarily) from the lower-tier to appear alongside the polling leaders. As I recall, Fiorina stood out because she’s a woman, but was also somewhat propelled by a comment Trump made about her face. Yes, that’s right, the folks vying for the nomination paused to talk about Carly Fiorina’s looks.
Making it much more difficult to earn a spot on stage solves that problem immediately, since the obvious pretenders won’t have the polling support or the money to go out and recruit enough individual donors in each state to lend them the appearance of having a foundation for a national campaign. In essence, it should be difficult to deserve inclusion in these oh-so-vital public events.
If it weren’t, there would be even more flight-of-fancy delusionists who are running for president today. Gov. Ron DeSantis allegedly took months to decide if he was going to enter the race, but what about someone like North Dakota governor Doug Burgum (I know, who?) or former Texas Representative Will Hurd (who?), or Miami Mayor Francis Suarez (who?) or RINO former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson (who?)?
There’s a good argument for setting the bar pretty high so as to not ration precious debate time and, in the name of “fairness”, allow candidates with less-than-zero chance of winning the nomination to take minutes away from the few competitors with a legitimate shot. Polls do tend to cull the herd, so to speak, but it doesn’t take one percent of party voters from State X to deliver the message about one’s chances.
2024’s race also features the unique circumstance of a former president seeking his third consecutive party nomination. It’s a well-known fact that Trump didn’t want anyone to run against him, asserting his rightful claim to the chance to win back what he viewed as being stolen from him a few years ago. Many of us, myself included, argued that there should be challengers to force Trump to talk about his agenda for a second term rather than to re-air his own personal grievances.
That’s precisely what’s being done right now and the process will be furthered by holding candidate forums (they’re not really debates, right?) starting in a month’s time. Several of the Republican hopefuls – including Trump – have good ideas that must be considered side by side and the candidates offered the opportunity to respond to questions on feasibility, etc.
Trump, for example, should answer as to how he intends to implement wide-reaching reform opposite a Congress that isn’t likely to be more receptive and cooperative than his first go-round. Trump will face headwinds from not only the Democrats but also the status quo loving RINOs in his own party who won’t be inclined to make things easy for him.
At the same time, Governor Ron DeSantis, rotund Chris Christie (assuming he qualifies) and a newcomer like Vivek Ramaswamy will most definitely contribute to the conversation. I won’t call it “Must See TV”, but the programs are certainly worthwhile.
Contrast the Republican “criteria” conundrum with the Democrats, who don’t have a checklist for inclusion in their debates – because there aren’t going to be any. The liberal establishment ensured that broken-down Joe Biden wouldn’t have to defend anything he’s done, and he won’t be asked to explain his multitude of denials regarding son Hunter’s corrupt business, sex and drug crimes, either.
Here’s thinking the issues surrounding this year’s GOP primary debates will work themselves out by the time the schedule rolls around. The candidates who deserve to be there – and who the grassroots want to see – will surely show up and speak. The rest? They’ll have another chance to satisfy the criteria and get their moment with the others.
Looks like the race is finally about to start. Bring it on.
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