Part 4—Prelude to last week's debate: In this morning's Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer shares one conservative's view of last week's presidential debate.
In Krauthammer's view, the moderators of the debate were obnoxious and incompetent. On the whole, we're inclined to agree.
He says the moderators handed the GOP a gift. We're inclined to see it that way too.
How did Krauthammer view the debate? We think it's worth recording his outlook in some detail:
KRAUTHAMMER (11/6/15): The CNBC debate was a gift for the GOP, so unadorned a demonstration of liberal condescension, hostility and arrogance that the rest of the media—their ideological cover exposed—were forced to denounce and ridicule their ham-handed colleagues."CNBC produced the best night of the entire campaign season for the GOP," Krauthammer said as he continued.
The party is demanding there be no repetition of the CNBC debate. Why, for God’s sake? That debate was the best thing to happen to the GOP since Michael Dukakis.
John Harwood’s obnoxiousness and Becky Quick’s incompetence earned most of the opprobrium heaped on the moderators’ performance. But it was Carl Quintanilla who demonstrated just how unmoored liberal delusions about conservatives have become. He asked Ben Carson how, as an opponent of same-sex marriage, he could remain on the board of a company that is known for its generous treatment of gay employees. Quintanilla seemed genuinely unable to fathom that one can oppose the most radical change in the structure of marriage in human history—as Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama all did just a few years ago—without wanting to see gay people persecuted and denied decent treatment by their employers.
Krauthammer states a second view in his column. He thinks the GOP undermined this gift from CNBC by complaining too much post-debate.
"Within a week they so overplayed their hand as to dissipate whatever sympathetic advantage they gained," Krauthammer says. He says the GOP's excessive complaining "allowed the liberal media to turn the tables and play defenders of journalistic independence against GOP bullies."
There's no doubt that some liberal pundits adopted that heroic stance, edging away from initial criticisms of the CNBC panel. We'll consider that pundit behavior tomorrow. For today, we'll focus on the journalistic performance of the debate's moderators, whose number ranged from three to six depending on how you count.
In fairness, the moderators faced a daunting task. Ten different candidates stood before them on a wide debate stage. Meanwhile, CNBC had assembled a starting lineup which featured three different moderators.
Traffic-wise, this could produce a mess. The inherent confusion only grew as three additional CNBC stars took brief turns asking questions.
These relief pitchers included Jim Cramer and Rick Santelli, perhaps to convince Republican viewers that the channel's leading crazies weren't being completely avoided.
At any rate, ten candidates faced six moderators! What could possibly go wrong?
Answer: A lot could go wrong! Indeed, we tend to agree with some of Krauthammer's assessments.
We think Harwood actually was a bit obnoxious and that Quick really did seem a bit incompetent. Or was she simply kissing ascot at times? We haven't seen a preface to a question like this since the press corps fawned to Saint McCain during Campaign 2000, endlessly reciting the fact that he was a straight-shooting straight-talker straight from The Straight Talk Express:
QUICK (10/28/15): Governor Christie, I'd like to come to you with a question. Actually, I have a question for you.Journalistically speaking, you probably shouldn't recite a candidate's slogans for him as you deliver his very first question! Assuming good faith, that highlighted statement represents astounding journalistic cluelessness. That said, it plainly doesn't stem from some deep pool of liberal bias.
In your tell-it-like-it-is campaign, you've said a lot of tough things. You've said that we need to raise the retirement age for Social Security. You think that we need to cut benefits for people who make over $80,000 and eliminate them entirely for seniors who are making over $200,000...
Were the moderators hobbled by "unmoored liberal delusions?" Krauthammer makes a reasonable point about that gopher ball from Quintanilla, which Carson quickly knocked out of the park.
On the whole, though, the moderators didn't necessarily seem to be working from liberal bias. They also didn't stage a substantive debate, despite what liberal apologists and potential colleagues would soon be claiming.
To the contrary! On the whole, we'd say the moderators worked from a form of "plutocrat bias" in the basic way they proceeded. We'd also say it's astounding that liberals like Ezra Klein and even Kevin Drum were somehow unable to see that fact, or were unwilling to say it.
Did CNBC's gang of corporate hirelings produce a substantive evening? Crackers, please! We'd say they conducted a flight from substance as they fumbled their way, scattershot-style, through their two-hour program.
Consider the way the evening began. Consider the way the moderators refused to structure the task before them.
Good God! On the stage stood a collection of candidates who have offered the craziest set of budget proposals in the nation's long history. Indeed, one of the candidates, Candidate Kasich, had made that very point, exactly one day earlier.
Candidate Kasich had seen enough! Setting the stage for the big debate, this is what he said:
KASICH (10/27/15): Do you know how crazy this election is?For the record, Kasich also said it's "crazy" to say "we ought to take 10 million or 11 million people" and remove them from the country.
Let me tell you something, I've about had it with these people. And let me tell you why.
We got one candidate that says that we ought to abolish Medicaid and Medicare. You ever heard of anything so crazy as that? Telling our people in this country who are seniors, or about to be seniors, that we're going to abolish Medicaid and Medicare?
We've got one person saying we ought to have a 10 percent flat tax that will drive up the deficit in this country by trillions of dollars that my daughters will spend the rest of their lives having to pay off.
You know, what I say to them is, Why don't we have no taxes? Just get rid of them all, and then a chicken in every pot on top of it?
That is just crazy. We got people proposing health care reform that's going to leave, I believe, millions of people without adequate health insurance.
Set Candidate Trump's immigration proposal to the side. Just for now, forget about Medicare and Medicaid and health care "reform" in general.
For now, let's consider those tax cut proposals, which Kasich described as "crazy." Let's start with a basic point:
On their face, those proposals do seem to be crazy! But how lucky! In theory, they fit right into CNBC's wheelhouse since the channel specializes in business, economics, finance.
What makes those tax cut proposals seem, on their face, to be crazy? Crackers! In Campaign 2000, Candidate Bush ran on what was taken to be a very large tax cut proposal. As proposed, it would have reduced federal taxes by $1.6 trillion over its first ten years of operation (2002 through 2011).
That plan was considered gigantic. But according to standard tax analysis, Candidate Trump's crazy-seeming proposal would reduce federal taxes by as much as $11 trillion! That's six to seven times as large as Bush's very large plan!
On its face, that tax cut proposal seems to be utterly crazy, basically stark raving mad. Other proposals seem at least as strange, including Candidate Carson's original plan for a single ten percent tax rate, based on Biblical tithing!
(For more about the tax cut proposals, see Josh Barro's preview of the debate for the New York Times.)
On their face, the budget proposals of these candidates seem to be stark raving mad. Luckily, there stood the CNBC Three or Six, fearless representatives of a financial news channel!
Surely, the CNBC Three or Six would seek to bring clarity out of this mess! Surely, they would examine those very strange tax cut proposals before moving on to the candidates' tell-it-like-it-is proposals for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
In fact, the moderators did no such thing that night. Tomorrow, we'll review what they actually did, and we'll ask you how any serious liberal could have called their work "substantive."
Kasich railed against Carson and Trump. We'll suggest you should do the same with respect to your tribe's leading pundits, none of whom have deigned to tell you what CNBC actually did.
Tomorrow: What "plutocrat bias" looks like