Maybe We Are Better Off Without Political Debates

Republicans don’t seem to think debates are worth their time. ABC News reports that more than a "half dozen GOP candidates in crucial state and federal races have either skipped out on or not committed to primary debates.”

Joe Lombardo, a gubernatorial candidate in Nevada, turned down a chance to debate in January. In Nebraska, Jim Pillen, another gubernatorial candidate, turned down offers to debate his opponents in March, telling ABC News debates amount to "political theater.”

Jim Pillen isn’t wrong: Political debates often descend into barroom brawls or Oscar stage slap fests.

PREVIOUSLY: All Fun And Games Until Ohio GOP Senate Candidate Starts Calling Opponent A 'Pussy'

Last month, Republicans Josh Mandel and Mike Gibbons almost came to blows at Ohio's Senate GOP primary debate. Mandel, 44, got up into the 69-year-old Gibbons’s grill and said: "You’re dealing with the wrong guy. You watch what happens, pussy. You watch what happens.”

This has nothing to do about policy. It’s all posturing. I love theatre, but this isn’t even good political theatre.


Republican Senate candidate Mehmet Oz skipped his party’s first Pennsylvania primary debate in January. He claimed he had a “prior commitment,” like he was trying to avoid a cousin’s boring “game night.” David McCormick also blew off the debate once he learned Oz wasn’t coming. That just hurts the other guests’ feelings.

This isn’t limited to Republicans. Last Sunday, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman also skipped the first Democratic Senate primary debate in Pennsylvania. He didn’t think the crowd of 175 people was big enough. He prefers larger venues, I guess. His opponents Rep. Conor Lamb and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta spent the whole evening obsessed with a key figure who never shows. Their production of Waiting for Fetterman didn’t wow voters and fundamentally alter the dynamics of the race. Fetterman remains the undisputed frontrunner. Besides, according to Fetterman’s communications director, he doesn’t need a debate stage to convince voters he’s not like other politicians. It’s obvious as "soon as they see him step out of his truck.”

Modern debates offer no compelling reason for frontrunners to participate. As Kenyatta demonstrated last week, it’s just as easy to take pot shots at an empty podium. Kenyatta also paused to give the absent Fetterman time to respond. That’s a boss move from my brother but he’s still coming in third.

In Georgia, GOP Senate candidate Herschel Walker refuse to debate his primary opponents, who I presume exist. He’s probably saving his intellectual strength for when he faces incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock. He’s got to make sure he says “CRT” correctly, as that’s tripped him up recently. At a Trump rally in March, Walker claimed he was running because he was "sick and tired of them wanting to teach CTR in school.” He’s also said he was running to stop "cancel culture.”

WALKER: We gotta get out of this cancel culture, because in the First Amendment, it gives you the right to say what you want to say. If you don’t agree with the Left, you’re gonna be canceled out. That’s the reason I decided to run. Right now I want everybody to stand up and say “the buck stops here.” The buck’s gotta stop with Herschel Walker because I love America.

How is Warnock supposed to debate this tree stump? He probably shouldn’t show up, either. Debates stopped serving a constructive purpose once the media gave up and started covering them like cage matches. Republicans can just shout rightwing talking points and lies, and the press will still nitpick a Democratic candidate’s slightly exaggerated wording.

The press also felt it necessary for Joe Biden to shoulder some of the blame for the disastrous first debate where Donald Trump shouted insults at Biden while exposing him to COVID-19.


Forbes detailed Donald Trump’s marathon of lies in an article titled “The Biggest Falsehoods Of The Final Trump-Biden Presidential Debate” instead of “The Current President Is A Pathological Liar Unfit To Remain In Office.” Biden gained nothing from these ordeals. He’s better off staying at home in 2024, and voters might as well watch Bridgerton.

[ABC News]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."

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