By now, we’ve heard lots from the GOP’s presidential candidates about how terrible the CNBC debate was, and how awful the questions were. The candidates seem to feel that CNBC intentionally structured that debate to be a “gotcha” debate, instead of allowing for substantive discussion about policy. They even sent a list of demands to the networks about what they want future debates to look like. Were CNBC’s questions really so terrible, though, compared to other debates? Would you be able to tell the difference between the questions CNBC asked, and questions other networks asked, without having them all memorized?
This is such a pressing issue that the Washington Post put together a 14-question quiz, just to see how many of us can tell which questions came from CNBC, and which ones were at other debates. These are some of the questions asked of Hillary Clinton at CNN’s Democratic debate last month:
- Do you change your political identity based on who you’re talking to?
- How can you credibly represent the views of the middle class?
- Do you regret your vote on the Patriot Act?
- On Benghazi, should you have seen the attack coming? (This isn’t a ‘gotcha’ question? Oh wait, the GOP would see this as a legit policy and credibility question. Never mind.)
And, some questions asked of Bernie Sanders:
- How can any kind of socialist win a general election in the United States?
- Do black lives matter, or do all lives matter? (How is this not a ‘gotcha’ question?)
- Would you shut down the NSA surveillance program?
- You supported the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. You honeymooned in the Soviet Union. And just this weekend, you said you’re not a capitalist. Doesn’t — doesn’t that ad write itself? (Wow.)
Below are a few of the debate questions in the Washington Post‘s quiz. Which ones are from the CNBC debate, and which ones are from other debates (either other GOP debates, or the Democratic debate)? Can you tell?
- Will you say anything to get elected?
- How can you win in 2016 when you’re such a divisive figure?
- It’s a question about why you’re having difficulty. [OFFERS REASONS] Is that why you’re having a difficult time in this race?
- Could you please address [CANDIDATE] across the stage here, and explain to him why you, someone who has never held executive office, are better prepared to be president than he is?
This writer has read, and re-read, the transcripts from each debate, and still got just 7/14 on this quiz, which you can take here. There are a few questions that were asked at the Democratic debate that seem like they belonged at the CNBC debate, if what the Republican candidates are saying is true. And a lot of questions asked of GOP candidates could easily belong in the Democratic debate, and the CNBC debate.
Now, perhaps the time has come for the networks to rethink their debates, and try to include more questions about what policies the candidates want to push as president, because they do seem more focused on past records and qualifications, rather than on what will happen after the election next year. What candidates want to do is just as important as what they’ve already done.
While we can say that the networks do seem to like “gotcha” questions, they all seem to like them about equally. What the GOP candidates are whining about is having to be accountable for past decisions, past votes, and past statements. They want to use the debates to pander to their know-nothing base without accountability. And it seems that they’re really making a huge deal out of absolutely nothing, just as they usually do when they want to stir things up.