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The Use – And Misuse – Of Presidential Debates47:10
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This campaign’s wild debates. Moderators under fire. Candidates behaving badly. How does 2016 stack up against Lincoln-Douglas and the rest?

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., center, answers a question as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, left, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, right, listen during a Republican presidential primary debate, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., center, answers a question as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, left, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, right, listen during a Republican presidential primary debate, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

It is caucus day at last in Iowa. Iowans have had the candidates all over their schools, their town halls, their barnyards, their living rooms. But for most Americans, it’s the debates that have been the big forum, and they’re not over. Trump has changed the tone. Some bemoan it. Reality TV! But they’ve had great ratings. Democrats have had many fewer, but they hit home. What would Lincoln and Douglas say? Kennedy and Nixon? This hour On Point, the debates and 2016.
-- Tom Ashbrook

Guests

James Poniewozik, chief television critic for the New York Times. (@poniewozik)
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication, where she is also the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center. Editor of "Electing the President, 2012" and co-author of "The Obama Victory" and "Presidents Creating the Presidency."

From Tom’s Reading List

Annenberg Public Policy Center: Democratizing The Debates — "There is no question that debates have a unique capacity to generate interest in the campaign, help voters understand their choices in the upcoming election, forecast governance, and increase the likelihood that voters will cast a vote for the preferred candidate rather than primarily because of opposition to the opponent. With needed reforms, presidential general election debates can do a better job of meeting these goals and can also increase the level and amount of viewership; without change, the proportions viewing debates may decline further and the levels of viewership among two important constituencies – the young and Hispanics – stagnate."

New York Times: Fox News vs. Trump: Setting Free the Golden Goose — "This hasn’t been a good campaign cycle for that notion. The Republican National Committee asked networks holding debates to agree to partner with conservative media outlets. CNN’s debates have included the conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt as a moderator-chaperone. (There’s been no equivalent liberal babysitter at the Democratic debates — which, if unintentionally, helps the R.N.C.’s working-the-refs argument that mainstream news anchors themselves count as liberal advocates.)"

POLITICO: Megyn Kelly Just Did Trump’s Dirty Work for Him — "To recap: Megyn Kelly, derided by Trump as a vapid Trump basher, along with Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, derided by Trump as pathetic losers, led the attacks on Trump’s leading competitors. And in the process, they helped remind Republican primary voters worried about immigration that Bush, Paul, Rubio and Cruz all have supported versions of amnesty."

This program aired on February 1, 2016.

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