Bad news heading into the #CNNDebate. CNN is strategising on ways to get the candidates ‘interacting’ with each other – which is what a debate should indeed entail (unlike the first Fox News-Facebook disaster). However, trying to generate arguments among the candidates, which seems to be the strategy, is different from getting the candidates to focus on issues. Donald Trump claims to be talented in the art of negotiation, so he must know that a successful negotiating strategy is not focused on who is right and who is wrong, but on the issue at hand – how to solve a problem, for example. Let’s hope the moderators can steer this to a debate over the issues and not over each others’ looks, energy, tone, or style.
I have been critical of the first GOP debate organized by Fox News and Facebook, despite its record-breaking audience. I’ve also written a number of posts about how the broadcast failed to focus on the issues. Given the excitement building around the CNN Debate on 16 September, let me make a simple appeal to the moderators, with apologies if this seems presumptuous:
First, avoid silly raise your hands questions. Ask simple open-ended questions about the issues. Let candidates explain their positions on some of the compelling issues of this election, such as around immigration and the Iran deal. I realize you cannot let every candidate comment on every issue, but if at least two comment, and one or more respond, you should begin to develop more voter awareness of positions on the key issues.
Secondly, avoid becoming the center of attention – that role should be left to the candidates. So rather than try to impress the audience or your peers with clever questions, try to enable the candidates to focus on the issues.
Much has been made about the degree style and personality were the key takeaways from the last debate, but that was in large part a consequence of the ways in which the debate was handled. By focusing on the issues, the style and personalities of the candidates will inevitably come through, but they will not be the only value of the debate.