Florida Debate

I have a debate wrap over at Plum Line, mainly pushing the point I’ve made before that Newt’s debate skills are something of a fraud. I thought he did quite poorly yesterday.

A couple of other points. Of all the whoppers I’ve ever heard, Newt’s claim that he left the House…I don’t have the transcript yet, but as the NYT put it “Mr. Gingrich made it sound as if he left the speakership out of a simple desire to do something else.” As I was saying, of all the whoppers I’ve ever heard, that sure is one. Not that I expect him to say: “well, it was a combination of the ethics charges against me, the open secret that I was carrying on an affair with a member of my staff while impeaching the president for infidelity, and that pretty much everyone in the conference was fed up with my shoddy management skills and dictatorial tendencies.” But there are some more plausible sounding answers than the one he gave, surely.

The other point is about the debate. During the first half hour, all of us on the twitter machine were bashing Brian Williams for asking only political and gotcha questions, which he did to the extent of twice interrupting a Newt/Mitt policy discussion to urge them to return to personal attacks (yes, really). Then they went to a break, and came back focused almost exclusively on policy questions until the end, when Williams asked an open-ended question that allowed everyone to make a final statement. About 15 minutes or so into the policy portion, the reporters and others I follow on twitter started complaining how boring it all was. My feeling? I’m for the policy questions. Sure, they’re dull for those of us who have watched over a dozen debates, plus stump speeches and TV hits and the rest of it. But part of the point of having debates, presumably, is for regular citizens, and while most of them probably changed the channel after the fireworks, a good number of them presumably stuck around and heard all that stuff for the first time from this field.

Indeed, while I’d be fine with leaving the political and gotcha questions out altogether (the candidates will find ways to get their prepared attacks in regardless of what the moderators do), I’m mostly fine with the way that NBC handled their job tonight.

And that’s all until the next debate, on Thursday. Yikes!

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.