The Presidential Candidate Debates Are Damaging the Republican Party

2016 Presidential Candidate Debate

Another debate has come and gone, and while most discussions debrief the candidates' performance, I want to talk about debate itself.

One of the many things that drives me nuts about debates is how they are almost irrelevant to U.S. political leadership. When does a U.S. president ever need formal debate skills outside of an election campaign?

Our president won’t debate Putin. He, or she, will have face-to-face meetings and personal phone calls with him. POTUS does not go to Congress for a U.S. version of Prime Minister's Questions; instead, he has in-person meetings in the Oval Office. The closest POTUS comes to needing debate skills is during press conferences, which sometimes have planted questions for scripted answers.

The U.S. presidency requires personal leadership skills, which have little to do with debate skills.

These days, a debate does not tell the public much information relevant to the presidency beyond a candidate’s grace under pressure. We are no longer in the late 20th century when national TV coverage was the way high politicians reached the collective American public. We don’t need debates to assess a candidate’s communication skills or even to tell us the candidate’s positions. We all know that the answers are vetted and canned for national TV.  We have also grown accustomed to so many other ways of public communication that trying to reach Americans through the old standard venues is actually a failure of communication.

Debates provide drama, not information, and so much so that they do not identify leadership; they distort it.

For example, take Senator Cruz on Wednesday night. Apparently, he was too stiff and formal, which came as a surprise because he has a reputation as a master debater. Well, he is, but formal debate is completely different than cocktail conversation and conferences. As one of Senator Cruz’s constituents who's attended more than a few Cruz for Senate events, I’ve seen his debating skills for myself, and the cold, stiff rap from last night is not the Ted Cruz that I’ve seen.