The 2016 Presidential Debates Could Become a Slugfest

The 2016 Presidential Debates Could Become a Slugfest

iStockphoto/Library of Congress/The Fiscal Times
By Eric Pianin

Few could doubt the impact of nationally televised presidential debates after Republican Mitt Romney set President Obama back on his heels in their first encounter in October 2012.

Romney was articulate and aggressive while Obama appeared frazzled and very much off his game. Romney’s commanding performance helped the former Massachusetts governor briefly energize his floundering campaign and regain its momentum.

Related: Clinton Plays the Gender Card as a Campaign Strategy -  

Moreover, with home viewership topping 67 million, the debate -- moderated by Jim Lehrer, the former news anchor for the PBS News Hour – broke a 32-year gross viewership record dating back to the first debate between Democratic President Jimmy Carter and Republican challenger Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Yet amid dramatic changes in political campaign tactics and fundraising and the way Americans consume the news, these televised general election presidential debates actually are suffering from diminished reach.

A new study issued on Wednesday by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania seemed to compare presidential debates to TV entertainment. Their assessment: the more than two-decade old debate format is to blame for the low viewership among millennials, although baby boomer viewers have increased.

Related: Why Marco Rubio Might Just Beat Hillary Clinton

So what to do?  In an era when large audiences pay far more attention to “Game of Thrones,” “House of Cards,” “Master Chef” and “So You Think You Can Dance” than to increasingly lengthy presidential campaign seasons,  how can the political parties and the National Presidential Debate Commission jazz up the debates to attract and keep a wider audience?

The Annenberg panel, of course, stops well short of recommending the equivalent of no-holds barred political mudwrestling to heighten audience engagement and sustained interest. The goal, the group says, is to expand and enrich debate content and produce a better informed group of voters.

To that end, the advisory group appears anxious to get rid of the moderator or middle man as much as possible and allow the two candidates to set the agenda and duke it out. They want to get rid of the one or more prominent journalists who set the ground rules and determine the pace and course of the evening’s discussion.

Related: GOP Prunes the 2016 Primary Debates Down to Nine

If, for example, Hillary Clinton were to slam, say, Marco Rubio in a debate, Rubio shouldn’t have to wait patiently for his opportunity to reply but should be allowed to jump in with a rejoinder. Think of it as the resurrection of CNN’s Crossfire.

To add a smidgeon of Jeopardy to the proceedings, each candidate would have a total of 45 minutes to spend to make their case or defend it.

While the candidates would have plenty of opportunity to get their political messages across, they would also have to respond quickly to attacks. A well-scripted candidate wouldn’t necessarily do well in that setting, and the possibility of “oops” moments would be increased. Welcome to reality TV, Beltway style.

Related: The GOP Hunger Games: Who Will Make the Debate Cut?  

Ah….but dead air is not an option, so a filibuster is off the table. No answer, rebuttal or question could exceed three minutes, according to the panel. When a candidate runs out of total time, he or she has exhausted the right to speak. Remaining time at the end of the moderator-posed topics can be used for a closing statement.

The recommendations are advisory only and it will be up to the presidential debate commission and the national parties to iron out the final ground rules next year.

Chart of the Day: Long Way to Go on Coronavirus Testing

Healthcare workers with ChristianaCare test people with symptoms of the coronavirus in a drive-thru in the parking lot of Chase
Jennifer Corbett
By The Fiscal Times Staff

The White House on Friday unveiled plans for a new effort to ramp up testing for Covid-19, which experts say is an essential part of limiting the spread of the virus. This chart from Vox gives a sense of just how far the U.S. has to go to catch up to other countries that are dealing with the pandemic, including South Korea, the leading virus screener with 3,692 tests per million people. The U.S., by comparison, has done about 23 tests per million people as of March 12.

After Spending $2 Billion, Air Force Bails Out on Planned Upgrades of B-2 Bombers

The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber flies over the Missouri Sky after taking off from the Whiteman Air For..
© Hyungwon Kang / Reuters
By The Fiscal Times Staff

The Air Force has scrapped a planned upgrade of its B-2 stealth bomber fleet — even after spending $2 billion on the effort — because defense contractor Northrup Grumman didn’t have the necessary software expertise to complete the project on time and on budget, Bloomberg’s Anthony Capaccio reports, citing the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer.

Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told reporters that the nearly $2 billion that had already been spent on the program wasn’t wasted because “we are still going to get upgraded electronic displays.”

Big Hurdle for Sanders’ Plan to Cancel Student Debt

Chip East / REUTERS
By The Fiscal Times Staff

Bernie Sanders wants to eliminate $1.6 trillion in student debt, to be paid for by a tax on financial transactions, but doing so won’t be easy, says Josh Mitchell of The Wall Street Journal.  

The main problem for Sanders is that most Americans don’t support the plan, with 57% of respondents in a poll last fall saying they oppose the idea of canceling all student debt. And the politics are particularly thorny for Sanders as he prepares for a likely general election run, Mitchell says: “Among the strongest opponents are groups Democrats hope to peel away from President Trump: Rust Belt voters, independents, whites, men and voters in rural areas.”

Number of the Day: $7 Million

NY mayor cites climate stance in endorsing Obama
By The Fiscal Times Staff

That’s how much Michael Bloomberg is spending per day in his pursuit of the Democratic presidential nomination, according to new monthly filings with the Federal Election Commission. “In January alone, Bloomberg dropped more than $220 million on his free-spending presidential campaign,” The Hill says. “That breaks down to about $7.1 million a day, $300,000 an hour or $5,000 per minute.”