As contests for the Republican presidential nomination draw to a close in the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire and now South Carolina, a clearer picture of the Republican field has emerged. With fewer candidates to crowd the debate stage, viewers across the nation are given an excellent opportunity to analyze the nuances of each candidate’s platform in much greater detail, or so it would seem.
Unfortunately, the dozens of Republican primary debates, as well as the early nominating contests themselves, have been plagued with rampant unprofessionalism.
Consider, for example, the Iowa caucuses, which were terribly mishandled this year. Immediately after the caucuses, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was declared the winner by a narrow margin of eight votes. A recount later determined that the real winner had been former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
Even now, several weeks later, nobody knows exactly what the vote total is. Out of 1,774 precincts in Iowa, votes from eight precincts “will never be certified,” according to the Des Moines Register, meaning those votes were simply lost. Forms from about 100 precincts did not meet state party requirements, although state party Chairman Matt Strawn has said that the party “erred on the side of inclusion” when tallying the results. In the end, the caucuses have been little more than a glorified straw poll.
The weeks leading up to the Iowa caucuses also exhibited blatant bias on the part of reporters and high-ranking party members.
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad recently suggested that the legitimacy of the Iowa caucuses depended on their outcome. In the days leading up to the caucuses, he said that if Texas Rep. Ron Paul were to win: “People are going to look at who comes in second and who comes in third.” In other words, he would be willing to discount the outcome of his own state’s nominating contest because of his personal opinion of a candidate.
Previously in the GOP nomination race, every presumed “front-runner” in the race had been taken seriously by major news networks and by high-ranking party officials, despite forgetting that China already has nuclear weapons, claiming that the HPV vaccine causes autism and issuing veiled threats of violence to the Federal Reserve Chairman. But suddenly, in the closing weeks before the first-in-the-nation caucus, the governor of Iowa decided that votes for one candidate are not as legitimate as votes for another candidate.
The recent debates have been equally unprofessional. Consider, for example, the CNN debate held in Charleston on January 19th. Between former Speaker of the House of Representative Newt Gingrich, Romney and Santorum, a total of 35 questions were asked. These three candidates were also given a total of 26 opportunities to respond to other candidates, most of which were responses to attacks by other candidates on stage; in other words, these three candidates spent almost as much time bickering amongst each other as they did talking about the issues. After this heated debate, major news networks such as CNN and CBS agreed that Rep. Paul lost the debate because he was a “non-factor,” meaning that he just answered the questions instead of arguing with everyone else on stage.
When the debate audiences get involved, the anger in the room is palpable, adding to the perception of the debate as a circus. In a previous Fox News debate, the audience viciously booed Paul for bringing up the Golden Rule when explaining his foreign policy position. Gingrich then summarized his foreign policy position in two words – “kill them” – to the tune of energetic, dystopian applause. This is not a new trend; who can forget the audiences that cheered Rick Perry’s execution record and cheered for the deaths of uninsured people?
I’ve been following the Republican primary race since last May, and it truly has been a dynamic field, with almost every candidate rising to the top of the polls at some point.
Unfortunately, it has also been a race plagued with superficial treatment of the candidates, heavy bias by party insiders and bookkeeping that should bring math majors to tears. With three different winners from the first three contests, we’re only at the beginning of what promises to be a long, farcical nominating process.