For much of modern American history, debates have been seen as a more or less essential part of any major political campaign. As much as candidates might squabble over the details ahead of time or claim they were mistreated after the fact, it was broadly assumed that they would at some point — or, frequently, more than once — meet in a formal face-off in front of the voters.
But that tradition has over recent election cycles to the point where it’s become a genuine question whether some of the most important races in this year’s midterms might feature any debates at all. In state after state, candidates have been squabbling over the timing, circumstances and number of debates.
I remember the days, dork that I am, when I would eagerly watch debates. They could be fun. But I have increasingly found them to be fairly useless exercises with the only purpose to catch a “gotcha” that can be used in an ad. I think the problem largely rests in how scripted and moderated they have become. Panelists ask questions and control the time. Candidates are forced to condense answers to complex questions into 30 second bites. Everything is conducted with a sense of fear as consultants warn their clients to say as little as possible.
I would much rather that debates actually be a debate between the two candidates. Something like a freeform back and forth where they discuss a single issue for 20 minutes at a stretch. It would force candidates to give thorough answers or cede the time to the opponent. If one candidate takes control and won’t let the other speak, the voters might not look to kindly on it. But at least it would be a debate about issues without the disruptive constructs of silly questions and arbitrary time limits. Put the gloves on and have it out.