By Brooke Bailey
The Republican Party has gained a fair amount of attention as result of its 2016 presidential candidates. The party’s two debates and rather large pool of candidates have made it the source of media attention for weeks. After airing their first debate last week, however, the Democratic Party has stolen the spotlight.
After comparing the three debates, the majority opinion from numerous media sites suggests that the Democratic debate was more composed and issue-oriented than both of the Republican debates. Some viewers, like Donald Trump, even described the Democrat debate as boring — and it’s true, the Democrats seemed to debate in an entirely different tone than the Republicans. But was the ultimate favorability of the Democrat debate caused by the difference in party values? Was it because there were less candidates, making it less chaotic? Or was it due to the more sensible questions that the Democratic candidates were asked?
The previously aired Republican debates were entertaining and watched by many, but they were also rather sporadic and infused with drama among the candidates. Candidates continuously and competitively called out other members in an attempt to boost their own political agenda. Though this could be a successful tactic for candidates in order to distinguish themselves amongst one another, the pinpointing was excessive, and spurred on by leading questions. Many of the questions asked of the candidates specifically mentioned the actions of another candidate, forcing the contender to answer with an opinion of their challenger.
For instance, during the recent Republican debate, candidate Carly Fiorina was asked, “You’ve dismissed him [Donald Trump] as an entertainer. Would you feel comfortable with Donald Trump’s finger on the nuclear codes?”
Donald Trump was asked a similar question by the moderator, “Mr. Trump, I want to give you a chance to respond to something that your rival to your left, Governor Bush, said. Governor Bush told me last week when I read him the quote from Governor Jindal that he agrees you’re not a serious candidate.”
Though this style of questioning may be helpful in showing viewers where candidates disagree, it composed an excessively large number of accusatory questions, and resulted in a contest of mudslinging that made it difficult to focus on the issues the candidates were discussing.
Dissimilarly, there were hardly any offensive remarks amongst the Democratic candidates in their first debate. Even when the candidates shared their opinions about one another, they did it breezily, often ending it with an affable handshake. Curiously, there seemed to be an evident difference in the questions that the Democrats were asked. Many of the questions posed were regarding the candidates themselves, or how they would do things differently than President Barack Obama. There were few questions that encouraged mudslinging, but even those few that did scarcely seemed to derail the candidates from their proposals. Even when the moderator relentlessly brought up Hillary Clinton’s email scandal — a perfect opportunity for her top competitor to pounce — Bernie Sanders simply urged that we stop talking about scandals and focus on the real issues.
While I do think that the type of questions asked fostered a significant role in the success of these debates, I don’t think they fully compensated for the differences among the two. Questions aside, the Democrats really did seem to be more issue-oriented and less interested in attacking each other. It was as if all candidates believed that their opponents would do a great job, therefore, all of their ideas should be heard.
This seems to represent a type of unification within the Democratic party, which could really work towards the party’s advantage. The Republicans, on the other hand, appear to be battling through a civil war within their own party. These candidates were much more divided in the debate — making it difficult for them to see eye-to-eye as they were consistently trying to tear each other down.
However, we are only in the beginning of this presidential race, and both parties could undergo major changes. The questions asked played a key role in the presidential debates, but they do not specifically determine the success of a debate or an individual candidate. As the Democratic candidates showed, members do not have to partake in the mudslinging, even if they are encouraged to do so.