The Great Debate Debate Is Unraveling

I realize news outlets (and for that matter, news-cycle blogs) have to go with what they’ve got, but I hope a few eyes were rolling over the weekend at the Great Debate Debate of 2015, said to be a rallying point for the vast Republican presidential field that was “rebelling” against CNBC and “uniting” to demand less challenging formats for future sponsors (with the exception of the sainted Fox News).

Today the United Debate Debate front is rapid unraveling as the actually very different interests of the candidates begin to manifest themselves. Four candidates (Trump, Kasich, Fiorina and Christie) have refused to sign onto a protest letter dictating terms to the networks. And at least one candidate, Christie, is mocking the whole exercise, as reported by Politico‘s Isenstadt, Gass and Gold:

“Why are we wasting time whining and bickering over this?” he asked. “I’d rather spend my time going out there talking to voters to talk about issues that really matter to the country, and if you think anybody who’s watching those debates really really cares about the future of the country is worried about whether a bathroom is close? Come on.”

“If you can’t exert bladder control for two hours, maybe you shouldn’t be president of the United States,” he cracked.

A new litmus test for candidates!

Christie actually sounded a bit like another critic of the debate debate, the actual President of the United States (per The Hill‘s Jordan Fabian):

President Obama on Monday mocked Republican presidential candidates as thin-skinned for lashing out at CNBC over the network’s handling of last week’s primary debate.

“They say, ‘when I talk to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, he’s going to straighten out,'” he said at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in New York City. “And then it turns out they can’t handle a bunch of CNBC moderators.”

“If you can’t handle those guys, I don’t think the Chinese and the Russians are going to be too worried about you,” Obama added.

The whole debate debate is beginning to look like an effort spearheaded by the one candidate who probably has the most to lose from probing debate question, current poll leader Ben Carson. As HuffPost’s Sam Stein reports, Team Carson would apparently prefer a “debate” made up basically of opening and closing statements:

Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon-turned-top presidential candidate, has not hid his displeasure with the current structure of Republican debates. His campaign finds them argumentative and disjointed, and they are spearheading a meeting on Sunday evening in Washington, D.C., to figure out ways to upend the system.

The proposal they appear set to push to the other campaigns will be to actually eliminate the debating portion of the debates.

Carson’s campaign wants to have all the candidates onstage and to give each of those candidates five minutes, minimum, for opening and closing statements, according to The Wall Street Journal.

If you do the math with ten candidates, and assuming (as you should not) no “leakage” via candidates exceeding their time, you’re looking at 100 minutes of non-interrupted candidate talking points. If you also, as Carson earlier demanded, a two-hour cap on the whole show, and work in commercials, yeah, there’s not any time for “debating.” This is, of course, a guy who thinks any criticism of his wacky world-view is an effort to repress him and take away his liberties, so it’s no wonder he’s hostile to the very idea of being questioned.

In any event, since the next debate is on Fox Business, which is also not to be questioned, the debate debate will probably fade away until such time as it again becomes convenient for a majority of the field.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.