Republican, presidential debate, August 8, 2023
A viewer watches the first Republican presidential debate live on Fox News and former President and candidate Donald Trump's interview by Tucker Carlson Photo credit: © Etienne Laurent/EFE via ZUMA Press

We are already living in a time when too many politicians have become mere performance artists. Giving them a stage to play their roles isn’t helping anybody.

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Following any type of debate, pundits are always quick to offer their takes on what everybody just saw, which invariably include lists of winners and losers. In the case of last night’s gathering of Republican presidential candidates (a term that should be used loosely since none of them will win the nomination), this is pretty easy. Nobody won and everybody lost.

That doesn’t just include the aforementioned “candidates,” but also the debate’s host network, Fox News, as well as everybody watching it.

One part of the reason why this much-hyped event was such an exercise in futility is the dynamics of the race. You could have grabbed eight random people off the streets of Milwaukee and put them on stage, and they would have had essentially the same chance as these eight Republicans to win the nomination.

That is how much Donald Trump is dominating this race. And even if the former president were to end up in jail or found ineligible to run, it seems more likely that somebody else, such as Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp or Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, would, with the full weight of the GOP establishment and deep-pocketed donors behind him, emerge as a consensus candidate.

That is also a testament to just how undistinguished the current field is.

It is tough to imagine that any Republican voter is feeling excited about any of these people after last night’s performance. And no amount of preplanned zingers or talking points the candidates delivered changed that.

Furthermore, it is even less likely that any independent watched them discuss issues like abortion, climate change, and supporting the dude who has been trying to undermine US democracy for years now and thought: These seem like reasonable people. I can’t wait to vote for them next year.

However, it would be unfair to only blame the candidates for why this debate was so pointless.

The entire concept is flawed.

There is no point in having eight people on a stage to watch them deliver prepared answers to predictable questions in front of an audience.

That format serves nobody.

Here is an idea for how to fix these debates: Do away with them altogether.

Instead, give every candidate the option of facing an antagonistic questioner in a one-on-one setting for a two-hour interview. For example, Joe Biden would have to sit down with Sean Hannity, Trump with Rachel Maddow, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. also with Maddow, and Ron DeSantis with the History Channel.

And then make these conversations about actual policy and not rehearsed soundbites. The interviewers would have explicit instructions to stop the candidates from rambling (as a matter of personal preference, we could imagine the use of cattle prods or shock collars here) and to stay away from useless gotcha questions.

The American people, at least those who care what happens to their country and who runs it, deserve to actually learn something about the candidates and their positions. The current debate format does the opposite of that.

We are already living in a time when too many politicians have become mere performance artists. Giving them a stage to play their roles isn’t helping anybody.

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