Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Cruzing to defeat

Hey remember when the democrats were all a bunch of yahoos who spent more time fighting each other than getting their act together to win elections, while the Republicans were disciplined and organized? That's what it felt like for some of the Clinton years and definitely in the early W. Bush years. It is remarkable to see how much that dynamic has totally reversed.

Look at the current GOP debate debacle. The candidates are such a mess they were not even able to answer basic substantive questions about their own positions. So instead they did what politicians who are trying to dodge a real question always do: they play the refs. The best example was Ted Cruz, who when asked a completely legitimate question about his position on the recent congressional deal to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a government shut down, railed against the unfairness of the questions, without ever explaining what was unfair about the question he was asked or bothering to answer it. The answer worked in the sense that it got Cruz out of answering a hard question, but it made a mess of everything else. Because suddenly the only position that most of the candidates were willing to take was to pile on about the biases of the debate moderators.

So now they have a real movement on their side. Rank and file Republicans are riled up about the alleged bias questions of the debate and all the candidates are trying to ride that wave. Really this just creates a bigger mess for themselves. To actually change the rules of the debates means they would have to agree on what makes a question "unfair." They can't just admit that they don't want to answer questions that are too hard, so instead they come up with a bunch of tepid proposals, like having opening statements, and not letting the moderators ask questions to cause the candidates to interact with each other (otherwise known as "having a debate") during the debates. Those proposals don't actually fix the problem because the real problem is just that they don't want to answer questions when the answer will hurt their candidacy. The question Cruz that launched his rallying cry would not have been any different under the new rules.

Because the reform proposals have so little substance, all that is left is the candidacies each trying to game the system to make new rules going forward that will favor their candidate in some small way. But there are just too many candidates and you can't have a change that would favor everyone. Plus, you have Trump, who isn't a team player anyway. So the whole reform effort is falling apart.

Meanwhile, the public at large has this great contrast with Hillary Clinton, the Democrat's lead candidate, who just withstood 11 hours of questions from questioners who were openly biased against her and kicked ass. The Republicans' debate debate started as a way to paper over the weaknesses of the candidates, but now the ensuing free-for-all is just highlighting what a mess they are.

Of course, the average Republican primary voter doesn't get any of these down side. Snuggled deep in their Fox News bubble they just can't see what everyone outside the bubble can see. Without regular Republican voters pushing back against the candidates' mess, the candidates can't break the messy dynamic. If they did and dropped their debate demands to stop making themselves look so bad, their base would turn against them hard, because dropping the debate demands would make no sense to someone who is being told from all the media he consumes that reforming the debates is a valid, if not important, issue. That leaves no way out for the Republican candidates. This week, Ted Cruz is my hero.

ADDENDUM: An interesting analysis of the "difficulty" of the questions asked between the various debates is here.