Editorials

Issuing ultimatums is no way to fix GOP debates

Jeb Bush, second from left, is flanked by fellow candidates Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump and Ben Carson during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado.
Jeb Bush, second from left, is flanked by fellow candidates Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump and Ben Carson during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado. AP

They want a pledge that the temperature will be kept below 67 degrees. That no one will require them to raise their hands to answer a question, or pose a yes or no question without providing enough time for a “substantive answer.”

Also, no “lightning rounds.” Those are definitely off-limits, just like audience “reaction shots.” And, please, no footage of their empty podiums after a commercial break.

These are just a few of the demands that Republican presidential candidates have for TV networks before they agree to take part in another primary debate. With such a list, you’d think the candidates were pampered rock stars on tour, not supposedly serious politicians running for the nation’s highest office. (In our dressing room this evening, we’d like five bottles of San Pellegrino chilled to 33 degrees, one large bowl of peanut M&Ms, all green ones removed.)

The list, which no campaign has endorsed yet, was nonetheless drawn up in a clandestine meeting Sunday night attended by the leaders of more than a dozen GOP campaigns. It represents an attempt to alter a debate process that the candidates loath, culminating with last week’s debate hosted by CNBC.

Wanting debates with more substance, as several candidates have said they want, is a noble goal. The face-offs are an important way for voters to vet candidates aspiring to be president, and yet, at times this year, the debates have resembled more of an ego-fueled WWF match than a sobering war of words.

The debates should be better. But petulantly issuing demands to TV networks – and threatening to go around them and stream debates online if they don’t comply – isn’t the best way to go about that. Not when your list includes frivolous things like making sure the temperature of the room remains pleasant and forbidding moderators from talking about the candidates using the restroom during breaks.

Some candidates, wisely, have recognized this.

On Monday afternoon, the campaign for Donald Trump, now in second place behind retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, announced that it would negotiate independently with TV networks before the next debate.

Carly Fiorina’s campaign has opted out, as has Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told CNN the same thing, following comments he made Monday on Fox News: “Stop complaining,” he told his rivals. “Do me a favor, set up a stage, put podiums up there and let’s just go.”

We hope they add that to the list.

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