Not having seen the Dems YouTube/CNN debate, we can't compare, but by all reports, the questions by and large reflected the concerns of the Democratic electorate and had little or nothing that would resemble tough questions from the right side of the spectrum. But again, not having seen it, we're prepared to be corrected on that
Fred Barnes was a bit outraged today, saying that last night's debate was "Two Hours of Humiliation" for the GOP candidates:
I don't know if the folks who put the debate together were purposely trying to make the Republican candidates look bad, but they certainly succeeded....
...it was chiefly the questions and who asked them that made the debate so appalling. By my recollection, there were no questions on health care, the economy, trade, the S-chip children's health care issue, the "surge" in Iraq, the spending showdown between President Bush and Congress, terrorist surveillance, or the performance of the Democratic Congress....
By my count, of the 30-plus questions, there were 6 on immigration, 3 on guns, 2 on abortion, 2 on gays, and one on whether the candidates believe every word in the Bible. These are exactly the issues, in the view of liberals and many in the media, on which Republicans look particularly unattractive.
We wouldn't be as harsh as Barnes. After all, it isn't terribly bad to see how a candidate is going to do when asked questions from a hostile point of view -- witness the single memorable example of this that has occured in the Dem debates, with first Hillary and then Obama fumbling around over what to say about drivers licenses for illegal aliens in two successive debates.
If anything, the eventual Dem candidate is going to be at a disadvantage, generally not having had to face hard Republican-style questions in the debates leading up to the Democratic primaries.
Also, one of the good things about the format was that while candidates feel no compunction whatsoever about ignoring a journalist's question and segueing directly into canned talking points, they don't quite dare snub voters like that. After all, Republican candidates in particular know that the journalists aren't going to vote for them anyway, whereas every Joe Citizen who's asking a question just might.
Well, except for this debate. We don't normally particularly care for Michelle Malkin's style, but her website has the best summary of the Democratic plants among the questioners. (There are already four confirmed, and not even 24 hours has passed since the debate.) The Republican candidates never had a shot at getting the votes of those questioners -- but that's life.
This is a race for the Republican nomination, and as Barnes points out, the questions should have been ones that Republicans are actually asking, and more importantly, they should be ones that are asked in the ways that Republicans ask them -- if, that is, the debate is to have integrity as a forum for helping the general public of Republican primary voters sort out the candidates and choose a standard-bearer for the party.
In some cases, CNN was probably just plain incompetent in vetting the questioners to see if they were Democratic activists (either that or the questioners were dishonest when CNN contacted them to screen them.) Today, Anderson Cooper has said that in at least one case he would have made the affiliation of a questioner clear had he known it, so we know that CNN did not intend to have Democratic supporters posing as "undecideds" in the video questioning.
One would think that CNN would have wanted some real Republicans helping them decide which questions to ask. It's not like we Republicans are incapable of asking tough questions of our would-be nominees. One would think that CNN would be sensitive to GOP accusations of bias, and think about such things ahead of time.
There were two questions from gays -- one turned out to be a declared Obama supporter, and the other had worked for John Kerry and is now on a committee for the Clinton campaign. Oops.
It isn't that there aren't gay Republicans -- in fact CNN should have had no trouble finding one, if having a video question from one was a top priority for the debate.
Trouble is, they would probably be asking questions about lowering taxes, making government smaller, fighting Islamic terrorism, and defending 2nd amendment rights. The winner of the GOP nomination is unlikely to be decided by the handful of gay Republicans who want GOP candidates to focus on identity politics -- so what was CNN's point?
Which brings us to the nub of this post: the GOP candidates handled the debate manfully. Not one of the "embarrassing questions" were particularly mishandled, in our opinion, and in fact the answers tended to be useful.
But if the GOP candidates can stand up and take it from CNN (as they should be able to do) -- having YouTube questions dished to them from Democratic plants, no less -- why aren't the Democratic candidates brave enough to do a Fox News debate?