In an unprecedented power play, the top tier candidates for the Republican presidential nomination have bypassed the Republican National Committee and come together to prepare a list of questions and demands for the television networks hosting future debates, with the explicit threat that some or all of the candidates may elect not to participate if they are not satisfied by the responses they receive.
The move is fascinating for the many questions it raises: Will the networks demonstrate some journalistic backbone and refuse to allow candidates to dictate the terms of public debates? How did the RNC manage to completely lose control of the candidates for its nomination? How long can RNC chairman Reince Priebus realistically expect to keep his job?
Aside from the questions it presents about the future of the GOP nominating process, the list of demands and questions is interesting because many of them are downright strange.
Here are some of the weirder questions and demands:
Will you acknowledge that you, as the sponsor, take responsibility for all questions asked, even if not asked by your personnel?
This is one of those weird and vaguely threatening questions that any reporter who has ever received a letter from a second-rate attorney representing the subject of a story will recognize. It uses ominous and vaguely legal-sounding words like “acknowledge” and “take responsibility” to create the impression that there is some sort of recourse available to candidates if they don’t like questions put to them.
If there’s anybody at the networks intimidated by this nonsense, down to the interns, they should find another line of work.
Will you commit to provide equal time/an equal number of questions of equal quality (substance as opposed to “gotcha” or frivolous) to each candidate?
Where to begin with this one? First, it’s absurd demand that all 10 participants in a prime time debate receive exactly the same amount of time and questions. Second, the demand that the questions be of “equal quality” is not only unenforceable, it’s unintelligible.
Who determines the “quality” of a question? From the candidates’ perspective, something like “Candidate X, what makes you love America so much?” would undoubtedly be ruled a “quality” question. But “Candidate X, you have consistently misrepresented the effects of your tax plan. Why?” would be ruled a frivolous “gotcha” question.
Which one does more to advance the voters’ ability to make an informed choice?
What are the plans for the lead-in to the debate (Pre-shot video? Announcer to moderator? Director to Moderator?) and how long is it?
Again, shouldn’t these people be worrying about how to create jobs, resolve the conflict in the Middle East or fix our crumbling infrastructure? Sweating who makes the throw to George Stephanopolous in a debate lead-in next February seems a bit trivial.
Who is the moderator? Will there be any additional questioners? Are they seated?
Okay, wanting to know who the moderator will be and whether there will be additional people asking questions is fair enough. But who cares if they will be seated?
Are you running promo ads before the debate about your moderator(s)?
Seriously, these people want to hold the most powerful office on the planet. Don’t they have other things to worry about?
Will there be a gong/buzzer/bell when time is up?
A gong? Really?
Well, actually … is it too much to hope for that the networks enforce time limits by bringing in Chuck Barris to drown out candidates who go over their time by striking a giant hanging gong?
Will you commit that you will not …
… Have a “lightening round?”
(Sigh.) Copy editors are your friends.
… Allow candidate-to-candidate questioning?
Known in some circles as “debating.”
Show an empty podium after a break (describe how far away the bathrooms are?)
The draft letter from the candidates directs the networks to “answer the questions below within 30 days of receipt by communicating directly with the campaigns.”
It should take considerably less time than that to draft the response the candidates deserve.