National Discourse: The Presidential Debates

Let’s get something straight before we start talking about the debates. The debates don’t necessarily matter, or at least not very much. Hans Noel, an associate professor of Government at Georgetown University, recently cited a poll showing that since 1964 the percent of partisans voting with the ticket has only grown. In the last two elections almost 90 percent of each party voted along party lines, a huge jump from as recently as the 90’s where on average only 75 percent of people stuck with their party.

All that said, the debates, regardless of what happens in them, have a negligible impact. Both candidates play to their audience’s strengths, and as the divide between the two sides grows the chance that either candidate will appeal across the aisle is disappearing.

The state of divisive politics aside, the debates were both informative and revealing for those who tuned in. In the vice presidential contest on October 4 Tim Kaine and Mike Pence took the stage to represent Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump respectively.

The VP debate was characterized by appeals to traditional conservatism. Both men were selected for their tickets, in part, because of their conservative backgrounds in each party, balancing the tickets. Both sides attacked each other’s credibility and intentions throughout the evening. The most telling exchange came toward the end, as both candidates weighed in on Religion and Abortion, two of the smaller issues thus far in the campaigns.

Both representatives struggled on issues relating to their presidential counterpart, but had developed answers on points pertaining to their pasts. Ultimately Kaine got the better of Pence in a few key areas, but not without taking a few blows himself. Pence faltered as he directly contradicted Trump numerous times, though not in ways Trump hasn’t previously contradicted himself.

The Presidential debate followed on Oct 9.

The second debate will be remembered as the most unprofessional debate ever held between two candidates. The only redeeming quality for the production was the pair of moderators, Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz.

Trump played to his base, calling out the moderators unduly for ‘bias’, steering away from his comments on sexual assault, and generally avoiding specific policy areas to deliver incoherent quotes like this one in response to his comments where he pivots to ISIS in a blatant redirection strategy,

“Certainly I’m not proud of it. But this is locker room talk. When we have a world where you have ISIS chopping off heads, where you have frankly drowning people in steel cages, wars, and horrible, horrible fights all over — so many bad things happening.”

Trump went on to attack Hilary Clinton for things Bill Clinton has been accused of, and notably stated that, if elected President, he would throw his political opponent in jail.

Clinton used the night to dismiss accusations regarding her emails and involvement in the Bengazi attacks. When asked about the emails she said,

“I’ll repeat it because I want everyone to hear it. That was a mistake and I take responsibility. For using a personal e-mail account. Obviously, if I were to do it over again, I would not. I’m not making any excuses. It was a mistake.”

In the aftermath of the debate numerous bi-partisan organizations released the following numbers regarding the debate.

Clinton told 5 lies and interrupted Trump 1 time during the debate, Trump told 33 lies and interrupted Clinton 18 times. Neither candidate reported any factually correct policy issues while on the stage.

The aftermath of the debate was a catastrophe for the GOP. After Trump’s comments on the bus many Republicans running for reelection unendorsed him. When Trump went out on stage, he was tasked with either failing miserably and allowing the Republican party to move away from him entirely, or with triumphing in a way that allowed those who had pulled endorsements to return.

The problem is that Trump did neither. By playing to his base he won in their eyes, while every other republican watched him flounder in the spotlight. Simply, he did just enough to warrant neither of the previous outcomes. So now Republican officials are in an incredibly tough spot, 33 percent of the country backs Trump, but that simply isn’t enough to win their position back this November, and the other portion of Republicans, approximately 15 percent of the electorate, are against Trump. So what looked like a sure continuation of a Republican House and Senate is now looking shaky, and that is even worse news for anyone favoring conservative politics.

The state of the second debate was largely disgraceful for one key reason, that neither candidate reported facts while on the national stage. In order for a democracy to work the electorate must be informed of the policy issues, must form their opinions based on their knowledge of the issues and not party affiliation or an individual’s likeability.

To serve that end, the Houstonian will be interviewing both the campus Democrats and the campus Republicans. The Houstonian hopes to host a debate in our offices and record it, releasing it as a podcast after the fact. This format would ensure that both candidates would be able to have the actual numbers and policy proposals of their candidates in front of them.

Both the Sam Houston Republicans and Democrats have agreed to do the debate, and will prepare for it over the coming week. The Houstonian will update you as the situation progresses and final times and dates for the debate are scheduled, and we will do our best to provide factual information for both campaigns to help you better decide which candidate to elect on Nov 8.

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