The first official presidential debates won’t begin until August,
but they are likely to be a critical factor in the selection next
year of the nominees of both parties.
This is more obvious on the Republican side where no aspirant
has yet built a genuine lead in the contest. Depending on the
poll, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, current Wisconsin
Governor Scott Walker, or current Florida Senator Marco
Rubio each have small leads. Trailing now in the polls, current
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie remains a serious candidate.
Current Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is likely to be a major
player in the race. Current Texas Senator Ted Cruz, already
announced, and current Ohio Governor John Kasich, who has
not announced, must be considered serious candidates, as should
businesswoman Carly Fiorina. Also in the race will likely be
former Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Senator
Rick Santorum, and businessman Donald Trump. This list
probably will be significantly enlarged.
All of the above are well-known, and most of them have notable
political resumes. Some of them can self-fund, others can (and
already have) raise major campaign funding.
I suggest, however, that their communications skills, including
their debating skills are quite varied, and that the debates this
cycle, as they did in 2012, will play a major role in who wins
the GOP nomination. For this reason, Mr. Christie, currently
languishing in the polls, will have an opportunity to rise
dramatically in the polls once the debates begin, and voters
have an opportunity to evaluate the candidates beyond mere
name recognition, advertising and media hype.
On the Democratic side, the impact of the debates is less clear
because the liberal party has had a clear frontrunner, and the
number and quality of its contestants, until now, have been small.
But now, former First Lady Hillary Clinton (also formerly U.S.
senator and secretary of state) has begun to face widespread
criticism of her past record, including an unfolding expose of
the non-profit foundation she and her husband head, a slow but
steady decline in her poll numbers, and a fading sense of
‘inevitability” as the Democratic nominee. Some major
potential rivals (including current Massachusetts Senator
Elizabeth Warren, current New York Governor Andrew Cuomo
and current Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar) have prudently
publicly spurned interest in the race (as long as Mrs Clinton was
the frontrunner), but almost certainly all or most of them would
enter the race should she withdraw or falter.
Mrs. Clinton’s current problems are compounded by the fact that
she is not an inspiring speaker, has been an evasive communicator,
and would be likely not an effective debater. A series of debates
among the Democratic candidates, particularly if the number of
serious contestants increases, might well turn the Democratic
nomination race upside-down.
There is little evidence that the Democratic Party leadership has
thought much about this, primarily because until now there was
not much anticipation of much of a nomination contest.
The Republicans, however, have thought a great deal about debates
in 2016. Much of this was due to the GOP experience in 2012 when
there were too many debates, and news organizations which
broadcast the debates often grossly interfered with the candidates’
presentations. These problems have been apparently repaired for
2016 when the GOP will hold a smaller number of official debates,
and have limited news media partisanship in the ones which are
Problems remain, especially in debate format and in how to decide
which candidate will be allowed to participate. Criticism of past
debates in which candidates were not allowed to interact and
debate each other will also have to be addressed.
With both parties having open races for the nomination of their
presidential contests, the 2016 presidential race is likely to be an
epic event. With the early positioning of the candidates so far not
producing likely outcomes, and large sums probably going to be
spent by everyone, the series of debates that begin in August, 2015
is almost certainly going to play a very large role in the outcomes
at the national conventions next summer, and then the debates
between the two nominees, always important, will be magnified.
Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.