The Corner

Politics & Policy

Will We Seize the Opportunity to Make the Debates More Substantive?

Efforts to unite the GOP presidential campaigns to take more control of primary debate are struggling, but that doesn’t mean (some of) the underlying impulses at work are wrong. Chief among them was articulated by Mike Huckabee’s campaign manager, who said over the weekend: “There is a real desire from our campaigns and others for more substance.”

Count me among the others who want more substance. Much more.

I do not think it would be particularly hard to accomplish this. There are plenty of great people at National Review, other opinion journals, universities, think tanks, and other organizations who have the policy expertise, political savvy, and media skills necessary to moderate a good debate.

The moderators need not be television hosts — the candidates aren’t props to make existing media stars shine all the brighter. They need not be household names — the candidates are the draw. They need not be on the hook for ratings — in fact, it would probably be better if they weren’t.

Look. The debates are obviously important. The candidates deserve the opportunity to have a serious conversation about the substance of their policy proposals. They should be able to discuss their policy goals, and how those goals are shaped by their vision for the country’s future. We should know what they want to do should they have the honor of serving as president of the United States.

Do conservative leaders agree? Do voters? CNBC’s poor moderating has created an opportunity to push the debates in a more substantive direction. Shall we seize it?

Are there other changes to the structure of the debates that would help in addition to having better moderators? Different types of partner organizations? Number of candidates on the stage? Rules about the content of questions? More input from the voting public?

Some will argue that for all the candidates’ complaints about a lack of substance, many of the candidates would not want to stand across from substantive moderators and answer hard questions under different debate structures.

I think we should find out whether that’s true.

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