Hating Hillary/Obama: Fox News kicks off Season of GOP Debates

Hating Hillary/Obama: Fox News kicks off Season of GOP Debates

Daily Maverick’s designated US election monitor, J. BROOKS SPECTOR, arose before 3 AM to watch the first debate of the quadrennial race for the American presidency. Here are his first impressions, even before he has read the spin and reactions of the commentariat.

The American presidential election season has now formally begun with two debates among the seventeen people who claim they are seeking the Republican nomination to be that party’s candidate in the election of president. These debates were organised and sponsored by the Fox News cable television network, together with Facebook.

The actual presidential election itself only takes place on 8 November 2016. But before that day, however, there will be primary elections and partisan party caucuses all across the country to select the delegates who will go the party conventions for the final ratification of the actual nominees.

These two encounters on 6 August took place in the Quicken Loans (yes, that is really its name) basketball arena in Cleveland, Ohio. This is the same city that will also host the Republican Party’s convention next year, in the same venue. Earlier in the day, the ‘junior’ debate brought together the seven announced candidates who had come in below the threshold of popularity in a collection of opinion polls that brought together the top ten candidates for the main event that took place in the evening and that was broadcast live globally by SkyNews. The ten included in this main bout were: businessman Donald Trump; incumbent governors for Ohio, new Jersey and Wisconsin, John Kasich, Chris Christie and Scott Walker; former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Senators Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and a retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

Chairing the televised event was a three-person team from Fox News, that comprised Megan Kelly, Chris Wallace and Brett Baier. During the broadcast and in the camera’s gaze, Kelly’s hair and teeth and Wallace and Baier’s pre-emptive rejoinders to the candidates all had cameo starring roles. This was television after all, even more than it was politics, with lots of screaming, cheering and booing by the thousands of attendees in the seats allowed – and not-so-subtly encouraged by the program’s format – although the audience’s throwing of rotten food at the contestants was proscribed.

gox gop moderators

Photo: Fox News Channel debate moderators (L-R), Chris Wallace, Megyn Kelly and Brett Baier, start the first official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign in Cleveland, Ohio, August 6, 2015. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

Right from the get-go, Donald Trump upset Republican apple carts everywhere when he refused to pledge he would support the eventual nominee and that he would not run as a third-party candidate, if he did not become the Republican nominee. Incredulous with that response, the moderators asked him several times to confirm that was what he meant. That response may well have put the metaphorical cat among the electoral pigeons for everything that follows over the next sixteen months – opening up the possibility Trump will bolt from the party and attempt a third party bid for the presidency, a fateful decision that would almost certainly ensure a Democratic Party win, come 2016.

The format of having the moderators fire off questions to the various candidates and allowing them only a minute for their responses (along with a further 30 seconds to reply to a follow up question), ensured lots of boring in on candidates’ ideas and previous statements, but very little in the way of meaningful dialogue between the candidates themselves. It was a long distance from the two touchstones of American political candidate debates – the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 for an Illinois seat for the US Senate where two men squared off multiple times all across the state in direct engagements that lasted several hours, or the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960 on US television and the similarly sustained, albeit shorter, engagements between those two men.

As a result, watching this Fox News broadcast was a bit like watching a live action version of individual cells of a Marvel Comics issue, where the words, “Bam!”, “Bang!”, “Pow!”, “Sock!” and “Ka-boom!” are written above the superheroes whenever they defeated their enemies and those dastardly evil-doers. While the ten contenders sometimes took on each other, despite the format, the real objects of their derision, hatred and fear were, naturally, Hillary Clinton, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, and incumbent president Barack Obama, rather than protracted clash between the gaggle of Republicans on stage together.

At times, too, it seemed like each of the men in the arena had been equipped with a powerful little catapult suitable for hurling red meat titbits to the audience – those trigger words and phrases of conservative ideology and anger designed to get the crowd riled up at each mention of such code words. The candidates were – in the main – virulently opposed to the Common Core educational standards, Obamacare, government regulation, Iranian-fundamentalist-terrorist-ISIS supporting-bloodthirsty-barbarians, laws that coddle criminals, illegal immigrants, evil Russians and Chinese, stupid government officials that obstruct legitimate-business-men-and-women-who-make-America-great, a-president-who-has-allowed-America-to-run-down-its-military and stupid bureaucrats who fail to take care of veterans. Oh, and stupid bureaucrats.

Much of the time, as the ten performers tried their hand at attacking evildoers Hillary and Barack, the fools in Washington that have drawn down the national defence, wimped out at confronting the country’s enemies like radical insurgent fundamentalist Islam, China, Russia, Iran and the like, these ten also tried to paint the country on the very precipice of imminent disaster. This was the result of all these failures by the Obama administration, even as the country’s best days were still ahead, but only if one of the ten was elected as Obama’s successor, and only just in the nick of time it would be, too.

This strain of eschatological, chiliastic rhetoric has long been a staple of Republican thought – the shameless pandering to the fears of a predominately white, older middle class increasingly fearful of the forces of change and demographic evolution in the country, and seeking a return to some safer, idyllic past. This strong, early taste of such rhetoric is a clear indication of how the Republicans plan to tackle their likely opponent: the GOP must ride to the rescue lest Hillary and company push the nation over that precipice, and in the process, selling it down the river to its enemies, foreign and domestic.

Naturally, given his current lead in polling of likely Republican voters, commentators’ and viewers’ eyes and ears were all on Donald Trump. In this case, The Donald may well have overreached himself – and damaged his stance as vigorous, business-savvy, truth telling, straight-shooter. Besides failing to pledge unconditional support for the eventual nominee and the party, when challenged by one of the co-moderators for proof of his assertion Mexico is deliberately sending its criminals across the border, Trump waved away the question and blustered onward to another theme. When challenged about his business acumen, with the questioner noting his businesses have gone bankrupt four times, thereby avoiding payment on loans and making over a thousand people lose their jobs, Trump simply responded that the lenders had lost their big-stakes gambles with him and he simply ignored the fates of his ex-employees.

But at least initially, despite the constraints of a format that placed a premium on short, pre-digested answers in response to complex questions of national policy, one thing that clearly emerged was that the participating senators were largely filled with rhetorical excess while governors and ex-governors demonstrated they had been required to gain some sense of mastery over the complex aspects of public policy as part of their work. In effect, this showed that a governor has actually tackled real issues and been responsible for outcomes and the necessary trade-offs that are involved in governing. Just maybe that might be important in a presidential candidate.

Still, best line of the night award must go to surgeon Ben Carson, despite his waffles when it came to actual policy questions. Summing up his candidacy, Carson explained himself as a man who had separated Siamese twins, successfully operated on an unborn foetus and removed 40% of the brain of a patient to allow that person to survive. Then, slipping in a lovely zinger, he shrugged and said that given the way things are in the capital, somebody else seems to have done that already to people in Washington. It was a good line; with some subtle, slightly self-deprecating humour – but it was unlikely this or anything else will deliver support for him much beyond the true believers already in his corner.

It is way, way too early to say if, or when, or if, Republican voters will move past their fascination with Donald Trump. There are still all those primaries and caucuses, around a dozen additional debates in the schedule, and an infinite number of public encounters and interviews for the various candidates, giving them many chances to stumble into rhetorical disaster. Still, the contents of this first debate have already given much raw material for attack lines against any of these individuals – to the Democrats every bit as much as the would-be candidates against each other in the intra-party bunfight.

Still, to this viewer, the man who stepped forward as the most presidential of the bunch was Ohio Governor John Kasich. While Senator Rubio tried hard to cast himself as a kind of Hispanic, Republican Kennedy with working class origins who wants to get the country moving again to a glorious future, Kasich had real facts and figures at his fingertips; he sounded like he knew what he was talking about; and he only rarely slipped into the kind of rhetorical blather that is the stock-and-trade of the demagogue or would-be wild ranter. And Kasich’s father was a mailman, as he reminded the audience several times, just to underscore for everyone that he, too, had deeply working class origins – in contrast to someone like Jeb Bush, Donald Trump – or Hillary Rodham Clinton. DM

Photo: Republican 2016 presidential candidates (L-R) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, Dr. Ben Carson, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, businessman Donald Trump, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, U.S. Senator Rand Paul and Ohio Governor John Kasich pose at the start of the first official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign in Cleveland, Ohio, August 6, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

For more, there will be thousands of articles, but perhaps start with these:

  • Trump jolts first GOP debate, rivals scramble for attention, at the AP;

  • The Latest: Trump ends with ‘We can’t do anything right’, at the AP;

  • FACT CHECK: GOP candidates veer from the truth in 1st debate. at the AP;

  • 2016 presidential debate schedule: Dates, times, moderators and topics at;

  • Donald Trump’s Six Stages Of Doom, at Nate Silver’s


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