Who’s Hot, Who’s Not: Fox News GOP Debate Edition

Iowa GOP/Fox News Debate, August 11, 2011 (photo credit: IowaPolitics.com via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Iowa GOP/Fox News Debate, August 11, 2011 (photo credit: IowaPolitics.com via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Let’s do “Who’s Not” hot first, because it’s an easier call: Fox News and the RNC.  In a week dominated by the first Republican presidential debate, the biggest losers were the hosts of this missed opportunity of a debate.

How can you tell it was a bad debate? The name of Hillary Clinton was mentioned eleven times, and only four of those mentions included so much as a full sentence of criticism. Two hours of prime time television, and the presumptive Democratic nominee was unscathed (although I agree with Ben Carson that she probably will not be the nominee).

It wasn’t the Republican candidates’ fault (although, really, they should get in a dig at Mrs. Clinton at every opportunity, as Carly Fiorina generally does). The problem was the suffocating format devised by Fox and the RNC.  The moderating trio of Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly, and Chris Wallace got confused and thought they were the story. They strangled the discussion with ridiculous questioning intended not to inform voters, but to generate sound bites. It was an evening of playing gotcha.

Here’s an example: the number one issue on voters’ minds is the economy, right? As in, why isn’t it growing? Chris Wallace to Trump: “You’ve talked a lot about how you are the person on this stage to grow the economy. I want to ask you about your businesses. Trump corporations have declared bankruptcy four times over the last quarter century.” So instead of hearing how Donald Trump would stimulate economic growth – an issue voters actually care about – precious time was wasted on the circumstances of Trump availing himself of the bankruptcy law. In the entire two hours there never was a coherent discussion of the economy. But that’s okay, because Chris Wallace got in a zinger.

The fundamental problem is that the media should not be allowed to set the agenda of the debate. The candidates themselves should determine which issues are discussed – and they should refuse to participate in any more media –sponsored debates until they get control of the format.

Who’s Hot? You have to give it to Donald Trump. He survived the Megyn Kelly onslaught, and may well have walked out of the Quicken Loans Arena with more voter sympathy. We’ll see. If it seems a mystery to you why so many Republicans like Trump, wouldn’t it have been interesting to have given him the space to explain his popularity?

Also Hot: the Republican field generally. We were reminded last night of what an extraordinary field the party has.  Strong performances by most of the candidates (Ben Carson tends to get lost in the crowd, and Lindsey Graham’s call for military deployments to Iraq and Syria is a non-starter); no one embarrassed himself (or herself). Carly, in particular, has earned a place at the varsity debate.

A shout-out to Rubio for calling for the repeal of Dodd-Frank. Evidence is mounting of the tremendous harm Dodd-Frank is inflicting on the economy; still, it’s a gutsy position to stake out, as Hillary will demagogue it to death.

Also Not Too Hot: Walker and Bush. The front runners were not able to pull away from the pack. Let the marathon begin.

Steve Wagner is president of QEV Analytics, a public opinion research firm, and a senior fellow at the American Principles Project.