By Uche Onyebadi
IT is a tradition for Republicans to attribute their troubles to the machinations of the so-called “liberal” or “mainstream” US press. This practice of misplaced aggression manifests itself all the time, especially in the cycle of electioneering campaigns. This year is not different.
Last week, all candidates seeking the endorsement of the Republican Party in the on-going presidential primaries decided to meet to discuss how they have been unfairly hounded by the press during the presidential debates. Ironically, the contestants did not want their party’s national committee to be a part of their discussions on how to curb the real or imagined excesses of the press.
At the heart of this choreographed show of disgruntlement with the press is the allegation that during the three presidential debates held so far, journalists moderating the events frequently asked the contenders tough “gotcha” or “got you” questions whose sole aim was to embarrass the candidates.
Earlier on, the same contenders had complained that the time allocated to the debates was too long (three hours maximum so far), a factor which resulted in the last debate being cut down to two hours.
What the Republican candidates cleverly brushed aside is the fact that there are ten of them who had to be asked questions, given the time to respond and an opportunity to take on their opponents or use some time to explain what they intend to do if elected president. Of course, like everything American, there had to be time set aside for commercials and to allow ovations or boos to die down so that the debate could continue as planned.
So, what meaningful debate can take place in such a scenario?
If ten candidates think two hours is such a long period, someone needs to remind them that what it amounts to is a mathematical session of twelve minutes per candidate, but a more realistic period of eight or so minutes for each of them, since there are other issues that normally eat up the time in such debates.
The truth about what they mean is that none of them is ready to be put in the spotlight for about ten minutes. They just want to make technical appearances in a spurious debate and walk away, having shown their faces to the potential Republican Party electorate. Many people see through their complaints.
The fact is that political debates have become part of the presidential election culture in the US. Candidates cannot avoid taking the hard punches from reporters and the public at large. Not only does the public want to know what plans the candidate has in seeking the presidency, people also want to know how articulate the contender is, and even more importantly, how temperamental he or she is.
A candidate who easily loses his or her comportment because of being asked “tough” questions leaves a lot of doubts in the minds of potential voters as to whether he or she has what it takes to be a United States president who will have a finger so close to the nuclear button, and will be constantly summoned to tackle a myriad of unexpected intractable local and global issues and events that will surely come up in the course of a presidency.
When Republican candidates blame the press for asking potentially embarrassing questions and accusing the media of having their own agenda, you might think that this volley of criticisms is directed at the so-called liberal press.
No. It is often directed at anyone who wears the title, journalist. The first of these debates was moderated by reporters at Fox News, a news channel everyone knows to be on the far right of the ideological continuum. Did candidate Donald Trump not emerge from that debate, screaming that the questions he got were unfair and tough? He practically declared war on Fox News and, in particular, Megyn Kelly who fired a couple of salvos at him regarding his alleged disdainful treatment of women, and buttressed her contention with verifiable statistics.
What did Trump do? He sought solace in the “fact” that the reporter was asking a “gotcha” question meant to embarrass him.
During the last debate hosted by CNBC, Marco Rubio was put to task by a reporter about his less than impressive voting record in the US Senate.
The objective reality is that Rubio’s has a less than 40 percent appearance and voting record in the law-making chamber where he is supposed to represent his Florida constituency.
Yet, it was the same Rubio that had accused President Obama that he was not doing the job US voters elected him to do. When that contradiction was put to him during the debate, he quickly dismissed it as a discredited press tactic to humiliate him.
When his co-contenders, Jeb Bush told him to resign from the senate if he could not do the work he was elected to do, Rubio dismissed him by saying that people had planted the “gotcha” question in Jeb. Yet, it was a question that was based on hard facts.
Last week, candidate Ted Cruz told reporters that the only way to avoid reporters asking the “gotcha” questions was to get Republican talk-show hosts to constitute the panel of debate moderators. In other words, the debates should be reduced to “friendly” questions being fielded by the candidates.
What this sort of thinking ignores is that the US electorate is not only populated by Republican Party sympathizers. Neither is the US media. Tough questions will continue to come the way of candidates for the US presidency, whether they are Republicans of Democrats.