So, Do Presidential Debates Really Matter?

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September 15, 2015 by gregrabidoux2013

GOP debate

Anyone NOT running for President?

Yes, they do. But, there’s a catch.

They matter but mostly to the candidates. More precisely, they matter because for many it is one of only a handful of chances to convince potential donors that they are worthy of that money drop. That “Liebfraumilch,” that “Mother’s Milk,” that every candidate with aspirations of sitting in the Oval Office, yes, right where Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky (wait, sorry, no one wants to hear that again), so desperately needs.

All, it would seem, except for Donald Trump, who has already said he’ll spend at least 1 billion of his own Trump-Bucks to get elected.

GOP debate Trump

One finger equals I billion.

So, yes, each candidate gets to talk in the debate (IF they make the television, prime time cut) but as usual, money, and I mean really big (nope, bigger than you are now imagining) talks the loudest and unlike the voter, the money gets the last laugh.

How big?

Well, in 1960, presidential candidate John Kennedy was accused by fellow democrat and rival for his party’s nomination, Hubert Humphrey of spending an “extravagant and plush” amount of money in the Wisconsin primary.

Just how plush and how extravagant was this Kennedy money push?

About $72,000. Or, what Jeb Bush just spent a week ago for catering for one of his luncheon fundraisers. No joke, read my lips, no McNuggets for Jeb donors.

Even when adjusting for inflation from 1960, that $72,000 becomes only $2.2 million.

In case you are wondering, CNN will charge 40 times its normal fee for advertising during tomorrow’s televised debate (the 8PM primetime one) or over $250,000 for 30 seconds. “Hi, my name is John F. Kennedy and, uh, looks like that’s all the time I have tonight…”

Put another way, what John Quincy Adams once called, “incorrect in principle,” (actually paying money to run for president) has become an obscene, incredibly self-perpetuating industry unto itself.

Final money tabs from the 2012 election have President Obama raising over $725 million dollars and his opponent, Mitt Romney raising a “paltry” $468 million, or a combined $1.2 billion with a “B” or so dollars. Geez, I wonder what they’d have spent if you know, we had been in some type of recession or economic downturn?

barack obama football

Must have been a LOTTA little people to help me raise about a billion!

So, with all this gobs of greenbacks being tossed around, how do presidential debates figure into this money equation?

Electability.

Televised debates provide donors and Super PAC managers the chance to see if their guy (the GOP currently has 14 “guys” running) or their girl (Carly Fiorina on the GOP side, Hillary Clinton on the Dems side) is electable.

But what does that really mean?

It means two things really.

One, can h/she win the party primary and, Two, can h/she have the broader appeal to win in the general election. Hint: Mitt Romney need not apply.

At this point, it’s not just about numbers, no just kidding, it’s really all about numbers. Kind of like an NFL team making pre-season cuts (Tim Tebow, I’ll miss you, man), there is just not enough room for everybody.

And currently, the GOP presidential stage is a crowded one.

There are eleven (11) invitees to the “Big Show,” the primetime televised debate tomorrow night at 8:00 PM EST on CNN, but there is the “undercard” of 4 invitees to the earlier, 6:00 PM EST televised GOP debate.

So, if you were lucky enough to make the CNN cut (you placed in the top 10 in terms of polling 4 weeks prior to the event) you get primetime and a chance to make your case to yes, the viewers, but honestly, more importantly at this point, your potential donors. Mother’s Milk, remember? And these are just baby candidates, and they need to all grow up big and strong, fast, certainly before primary season starts.

GOP debate money and tv

TV equals money and gobs of money equals White House.

And who are your top ten? Well, actually, Top 11, due to a statistical polling tie between two of the GOP candidates. So, in order of polling rank, the folks who will jockey for the inside money and voter poll are:

Donald Trump (33%), Ben Carson (20%), Jeb Bush (8%), Ted Cruz (7%), Marc Rubio (6.5%), Rand Paul (5%), Mike Huckabee (3%), John Kasich (2.5%), the “surging” (per CNN reports) Carly Fiorina (2%) tied with Scott Walker with 2% and the once “can’t miss” Chris Christie bringing up the caboose with 1.2%.

Gov Christie

I would have been here sooner but um, I got stuck on a bridge somewhere.

Not making the cut but looking to be called up to the Big Show are;

Bobby Jindal (1%), Rick Santorum (1%), Lindsey Graham (0.8%) and George Pataki (0.2%).

Now, what about this intimacy between money and votes?

I spoke with a DC based PAC manager this morning with this blog in mind. He said that while there is no “magic number,” if a candidate fails to break 5% or he or she is trending downward (Hello and Goodbye Scott Walker, Chris Christie and Adios for sure to Rick Perry) the money may all but dry up.

When I pressed him a bit, he did say that 5% is something of a “break-point,” meaning, that if and when a candidate breaks that ceiling and is trending upward OR is seen as the potential to do so but needs a money-push (Nice to meet ya, Carly Fiorina) then h/she is very likely to attract serious money.

gop debate carly f

Trump says she shouldn’t be president because of “her face.” Maybe his face and her hair?

Besides the big money watch, what else should the rest of us watch for during tomorrow’s debate?

Well, speaking of “watches,” in the 1992 televised debate then President George H.W. Bush snuck a peak at his watch during an audience Q&A and was roiled by the media for looking “disinterested, bored and tired” while Bill Clinton seemed to want the debate to never end. Hey, it was after 9PM EST and that as I understand it is bed time for the Bushies. Jeb, be careful what you sat after 9PM tomorrow night.

Of course, sometimes it’s just that one quip, however scripted that can make or break a candidate. When then 73 year-old Ronald Reagan joked that he “would not use the relative youth and inexperience” of his opponent (Walter Mondale) against him in the 1984 campaign debate it was pretty much all over except to pin the last GOP electoral vote on the tail of the Democratic Donkey.

GOP debate RR and horse

A candidate on a horse trumps a, well, a Trump.

Sometimes, it’s just the eyeball test that is telling. Richard Nixon in the first televised debate looked gaunt and pale with no make-up in 1960, Al Gore looked orange from way too much make-up in 2000 and Mike Dukakis just looked small, Ross Perot-small in 1988.

So, do these debates matter?

You bet. We’re giving them the early eyeball test, while Big Money is sizing them up for electability and they had better not come up too short. Or too orange.

bengal-tiger-why-matter_7341043

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84 thoughts on “So, Do Presidential Debates Really Matter?

  1. Kyle G says:

    At the core of the issue, I would absolutely agree that early debates are more telling and beneficial to the candidates. They receive money, declare a “platform, get their names out there, and give a good impression of how in-tune they are with current foreign and domestic issues, among other things. For example, Trump was practically a household name before he announced his presidential candidacy. Clinton came to fame initially by being First Lady and holding high offices since. On the other hand, names like Fiorina, Carson, Sanders, and Cruz all start to generate a lot of buzz. In some cases these political backers fund campaigns based on agendas (such as backing someone simply because their race or gender), while others actually back people based on what they bring to the table as potential Presidents.
    With that being said, the citizens, or common man, would be absolutely foolish not to read up on or watch the presidential debates. Relying on the media or the left-wing and right-wing to twist and bend information to either portray things in a different light or out of context. How do candidates react to different issues. For example, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have both had rallies interrupted by the Black Lives Matter protestors, yet they both reacted very differently. I won’t post how they reacted, but instead urge everyone to go watch the footage for themselves. In the end all presidential debates matter but only if we, educated Americans, use them to our advantage in order to elect the best candidate to move our nation upward.

  2. autron76 says:

    You might have to ask What is important in identifying the most qualified candidate in Presidential debates . I do not believe that the current way of giving the debates a major stake in seeing who will be the winner of the Presidential race. Does time in front of the camera make up for all the shortcomings of a candidate?In my view the debate should not hold as much weight as it does today, but the pundits and media has created this so called bar that one must muster in order to even contend to being a major candidate. Many candidates do not even bother to campaign in certain areas due to the fact that playing in the camera seems to be more beneficial than actual hand to touch feeling.

  3. Matt R says:

    I have a few doubts about Trump, but I must say for the most part, he’s been pretty consistent, especially since the beginning. He hasn’t backed down from any of his comments like everyone else. For example, in his opening debate and his opening campaign speeches, he jumped all over illegal immigration and everyone else was in shock. He received a LOT of backlash but never backed down. Once he started to gain so much momentum because of his “fortitude” and his number started skyrocketing, a funny thing happened. All of a sudden, the other candidates started borrowing arguments from his campaign. Suddenly, every other candidate started talking about the illegal immigration problems. Trump has spent a great deal of time talking about REAL issues that need to be dealt with in this country and why other people are not equipped or qualified to handle those issues (such as Hillary). I find it funny how Nixon was impeached for erasing tapes but Hillary is still allowed to run for President after she deleted thousands upon thousands of emails containing information as to the loss of American lives in Benghazi. But that’s beside the point. Trump is the only one who is consistent at this moment, aside from Ted Cruz. He’s a bit of a bully yes, but he says what is on his mind and he is not afraid to address the important issues. Not only do the debates allow the politicians to get up there are tell the people why they are the greatest thing since sliced bread, they allow the public to see just how they address and respond to REAL issues with America. You can learn a lot about someone just by seeing if they do or don’t clear their throats before answering a tough question or if they have to stare off into outer space in order to find the best believable lie they can tell. You can see it in their eyes if you look hard enough who is for the people, and who is for his (or her in Hillary’s case) own self. I’ve learned a lot about each candidate from watching the debates and I have no doubts who I’ll vote for in 2016.

  4. Mary M. says:

    While I’m not a huge Trump fan, he has accomplished something that no other candidate has….and that’s to get people, and namely the other candidates, to acknowledge and talk about serious and pressing issues that are facing our nation today. Yes, each candidate has a platform and an agenda that is near and dear to his or her heart. But, Trump has discussed most of the “hard to talk about” issues and was not afraid of alienating voters to do it. There are times that I feel his handlers need to reign him in due to his not-so-kind comments (Carly’s face comes to mind) but for the most part he has acted “Presidential” in the televised debates. So whether or not he actually charges the network $5M for his next appearance and donates it to Wounded Warriors, it’s kind of a great idea. I bet if everyone did that it would sure change the landscape of televised debates.

  5. Charles H says:

    That may be the best breakdown of the function of debates I have ever heard. I’ve often wondered since most topics covered are hardly ever dealt with in office. Most Presidents don’t tackle Roe v. Wade or mention their religious beliefs every speech, but they seem to in debates and it has always bothered me. It just makes me wonder if we are seeing the best candidates. If you were looking for a house, would you only relegate yourself to buy one of ten shown to you….of course not, but we do it with party nominations, and at the end….big money controls. It really competes with the idea of a democratic republic….it’s more like a capitalistic oligarchy.

  6. Keir B. says:

    To be completely honest I haven’t paid any attention to any of the debates that have taken place thus far. I know it may seem like an irresponsible thing to do, but I just haven’t been interested in hearing anything that Donald Trump has to say or seeing that god awful toupee that at he wears. It seems like every time he gets a chance to speak he says something very controversial and I just hope that he doesn’t make it to the final ballot. I guess if I’m going to speak on it I should really start paying attention.

  7. Cenetta B says:

    The debates that have taken place so far have been more of a source drinking games, than eyeballing, at least the GOP debates anyway. Watching them go back and forth has been laughable, dreadful, and downright aggravating. Despite all this, I can agree with the eye-balling. For whatever reasons, looking “presidential” is important. Looking at the Democratic debate’s coverage brought that to light. Martin O’Malley didn’t necessarily win the debate, he was lauded for looking presidential. Tall, fight, and younger than Bernie, and far more masculine than Hillary, naturally. All in all, debates are important for eyeballing mainly because we haven’t anything new in them at all.

  8. LBJ says:

    These debates are certainly all about money and this year seems to be all about entertainment. There doesn’t appear to have been hardly anything of sustenance that has come out these debates. I feel as if the media, especially is making a mockery out of the candidates as well. I don’t think people are really listening to the candidates and what they stand for which is why Donald Trump is somehow still in the lead which is insane.

  9. K. Dobson says:

    I wonder to what effect debates have on the minds of those who are on the fence. Having played the politics game in my past, I have witnessed many candidates engage in debates, and each and every time, as I scan the crowd, or read the follow-up commentary and examine the numbers, I think to myself: “This is a waste of time!” In my mind debates are effective at convincing those voters that have already made up their minds to vote – and often those people have their candidate already chosen. Only when a candidate has a unusually strong showing, or an extremely embarrassing showing, will those votes start to sway. In that case, debates can be effective for that candidate who just can’t prove themselves on the campaign trail.

    As it pertains to the financing aspect of campaigns, I think it has gotten absolutely absurd. For example, Donald Trump has been able to maintain his “front-runner” status in the polls (another absurd political tool, but that debate is for another day) because of the sheer $$ machine that he has motivated to his cause. I have learned from some internal sources – who are friends – that campaign leadership has motivated an army of staffers to get the “message” to those people who are answering the phones for the poll questions, and who will have sway and Trump-votes come Primary season. No other candidate can do that at this point, so there really is no competition at this point. It has become true that the one who can raise the biggest pot, can have the Oval; only time will tell if this applies to the ’16 election as well – in that case lets get the lyrics to “Hail to the … Donald” ready.

  10. Ethan says:

    I think yes they matter but at the same time they have became such a pissing contest that it is now all about who can do the most for what person in the nation and how much money can what president give away. It needs to be more focused on the values of the American people and our future generations.

  11. Meg says:

    Defining the impact of a presidential debate today is difficult. Certainly debates make headlines, but generally in the context of sensationalism and partisan jabs. Today’s debates appear to yield far more caricatures and fodder for partisan or candidate criticism than meaningful discourse. As we stepped into the increasingly difficult-to-take days of presidential primaries and are making our way through this lengthy process, I find the debates to contribute little to my perceptions of the candidates. Looking through a national lens, the impact is likely lessened. Sound bites, memes, and gifs taken from the debates – carefully crafted by one candidate’s team to support their candidacy or carefully crafted by another to destroy credibility – may be the only exposure many Americans have to the debates at all. Viewership is down, communication modalities are changing, and journalistic ethics no longer define the message distributed. Ultimately, the power of the debates is limited; however, it is the smaller pieces, taken from the show that can empower or destroy a candidate. In the end, American’s pay a huge price for this.

  12. Tayo Sowemimo says:

    Debate typically affect outcome of elections; presidential elections are without exception; they allow would be voters to access the candidates and measure their ability to answer unexpected questions, how they respond under pressure and to essentially get a sense of their cognitive aptitude. With this background, it is possible occasionally to enter a political season in which we find ourselves now in 2016 presidential election cycle, where performance on debate stage may not really matter, as in the case of Mr. Donald J. Trump. The bombastic, rash billionaire appears to tap into the frustration and anger of some segments of the American electorates, who are mostly angry with immigration policies, sharp decline in manufacturing jobs, mounting debt, perceive lack of America’s global leadership and the general dysfunction in Washington DC. In this strange political cycle, debates appear not to matter so much as it would have been at other times, with most voters having already made up their minds for the “outsider” candidate whom they expect will bring the much needed change even though no substantive and coherent plan on how to achieve such have been presented. On the final note, even at this strange times, candidate like Dr. Ben Carson appeared to have stumbled for his perceive lack of foreign affairs experience and knowledge as it was displayed during his debate performances, not forgetting Senator Marco Rubio’s “boy in the bubble” moment highlighted by Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey to the bemusement of the country, which almost derailed his campaign. Debates do matter, am not too sure to which extent they do in this political juncture that we find ourselves.

  13. Tayo Sowemimo says:

    Debate typically affect outcome of elections; presidential elections are without exception; they allow would be voters to access the candidates and measure their ability to answer unexpected questions, how they respond under pressure and to essentially get a sense of their cognitive aptitude. With this background, it is possible occasionally to enter a political season in which we find ourselves now in 2016 presidential election cycle, where performance on debate stage may not really matter, as in the case of Mr. Donald J. Trump. The bombastic, rash billionaire appears to tap into the frustration and anger of some segments of the American electorates, who are mostly angry with immigration policies, sharp decline in manufacturing jobs, mounting debt, perceive lack of America’s global leadership and the general dysfunction in Washington DC. In this strange political cycle, debates appear not to matter so much as it would have been at other times, with most voters having already made up their minds for the “outsider” candidate whom they expect will bring the much needed change even though no substantive and coherent plan on how to achieve such have been presented. On the final note, even at this strange time, candidate like Dr. Ben Carson appeared to have stumbled for his perceive lack of foreign affair experience and knowledge as it was displayed during his debate performances, not forgetting Senator Marco Rubio’s “boy in the bubble” moment highlighted by Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey to the bemusement of the country, which almost derailed his campaign. Debates do matter, am not too sure to which extent they do in this political juncture that we find ourselves.

  14. jpmcvaney says:

    Debates have some influence, both good and bad, for elections. As mentioned, debates are where we get the first look or impression of a candidate as the General Election gets closer and closer. The impressions we get during the debates are sure to be key in our minds in terms of how we end up voting whether we are Republican, Democrat, or non-partisan/independents. This election for the primaries has been a number of impressions with candidates skipping debates and doing something else, having “technical difficulties”, and other such issues. Personally, I do not find debates that helpful until closer to Nov. 2 after several number of rallies and campaign commercials. It is much easier to pick out true policy alignment from a rally than a debate within the same party because the same party debates in the primary should have similar ideologies as they are in the same party. But the General Election debates are much better due to clashing ideas during questions. It is the General Election debates that you see where the various differences in agendas by the candidates. Although the current debates and even the rallies have been rather comical and enlightening in terms of the personalities of the candidates in a bit more of an expanded sense than what we see typically.

  15. Victoria Johnson says:

    Presidential debates annoy me. A bunch of candidates rally around to discuss topics and provide premeditated answers from calling cards and provide Americans with a unsupported sense of confidence in their ability. In the current election cycle, Rallies have become a bit of an entertainment center. Candidates for the upcoming election seem to be filled with a lot of personality and little knowledge.

  16. valdostaphil says:

    Phil-Edwards-7400-Fall-2016-Blog-Post

    I don’t think they’re going to this time around. This post is almost exactly a year old, and yet it has extremely relevance right now. We haven’t even had the first Presidential debate in The Hilary vs. The Donald, and I don’t think they’re going to matter even a teeny tiny little bit. I truly think that anyone who still claims to be undecided on whether to vote for Hilary or Donald is either delusional or a liar. They might be deciding whether to vote for Hilary or some alternative, or for Donald or some alternative, but there are no undecideds left that intend to vote for a major party come hell or high water. There can’t possibly be.

    This one’s baked into the cake. Stick a fork in it, it’s done. Whatever is going to happen in November is already going to happen. All that’s left is to do is wait it out.

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