It was hard to imagine that the Republican selection process of a nominee for the presidency could get even messier than it already was. So far it has been dominated by two non-traditional candidates, real estate billionaire Donald Trump and neurosurgeon Ben Carson, neither of whom a majority of the American people can imagine in the White House. The frontrunners could not be more different. Trump is loud and aggressive and blurts just about everything out that bubbles up in his head. Carson is quiet and laid back and appears to have thought very carefully about everything he says, delivering his opinions in a somnolent manner. Yet the main competition between them concerns the level of outrageousness of their statements. Trump started off with calling Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers, and Carson countered with comparing Obamacare to slavery and blaming the Holocaust on gun control. In the shadow of these two intellectual giants the more traditional candidates have to fight for some attention, which inspires them to come up with bizarre statements of their own and attack each other from left field.
This GOP cabal is a fertile ground for TV networks who want to improve their ratings, because every debate between the candidates has the makings of what Thomas Hobbes called ‘bellum omnium contra omnes,’ the war of all against all. Therefore it is understandable that journalists who moderate the debates try to stir the pot a little by drawing the would-be presidents out of their comfort zone and pitting them either against public perceptions of themselves or against each other. So it happened in the most recent debate, hosted by the business network CNBC, with three moderators who were poorly prepared and disorganized, but keen on creating as much of a spectacle as possible. Although the questions and answers were supposed to be about the economy and deal with the various candidates’ recipes to reform the tax code and create jobs, it soon degenerated into Donald Trump taking down Governor Kasich, by accusing him of having been a managing partner of Lehman Brothers, Marco Rubio taking down Jeb Bush for an ill-advised attack on his voting record, and Ted Cruz taking down the moderators.
It was almost an oxymoron to hear Cruz, the unofficial representative of the UFC in Congress, blame the CNBC crew for trying to create a ‘cage fight.’ After the debate some of the camps came together, agreeing to no longer be the pawns in a chess game between the RNC and the networks, and announcing a meeting where they would conceive a plan to get more control over future debates. Not to be completely sidelined the RNC put its relationship with NBC on hold.
There are two things to be observed about this: First, as bad as it can get with the networks, a situation where the candidates control how and by whom their debates are moderated is always worse, and second, if the candidates’ wish had been granted and their tax plans had been discussed in some detail none of them would have passed muster, as today’s NY Times shows.
In the meantime the Republican chaos can only be beneficial for the Democrats. Apart from a few innocuous jabs they have civilized debates, out of which Hillary Clinton will emerge as the nominee, ready to take on the bludgeoned Republican that is still standing in the end.