The American Debate Association describes how a debate is supposed to work. The debate focuses on a statement, such as “The United States needs a new tax system to create jobs.”
For example, Donald Trump gets first crack in the affirmative, followed by Hillary Clinton in the negative. Each has nine minutes to discuss the question rather than the two-minute soundbites of last night’s debate. Then each one gets to question the other. Then the two debaters get to rebut the other’s argument.
The argument is between the two parties rather than through a moderator. In fact, in an actual debate, there is no moderator. The judges are supposed to stay out of the way.
Since I was in high school, these rules have been the standard. I have no idea why presidential debates don’t use this approach.
It’s probably because the longstanding rules for debate would probably bring more substance without the useless presence of some media darling who has virtually no expertise in the area of domestic and foreign policies.
Despite my misgivings about the format and substance of last night’s debate, I generally think it was a draw, which probably works in Donald Trump’s favor. The MSM gives the nod to Hillary, but that’s not unexpected.
Trump did a relatively good job of explaining his policies on trade and policing, but he fumbled through his response on the birther issue. He rambled as he often does. But he had the best line: Hillary has a lot of experience, but it’s bad experience.
Clinton failed to move the needle on what to do about the self-proclaimed Islamic State and race relations. At times, she seemed robotic.
On more “substantive” matters that usually decide who won and who lost the debate, Trump’s audio was bad at many times during the discussion; both had terrible makeup jobs; the split screen clearly favored Clinton.
What’s amazes me is that the moderator, Lester Holt, failed to ask any substantive questions about emails, Benghazi or the Clinton Foundation. If anything underlines how unnecessary a star moderator is, Holt’s avoidance of certain issues demonstrates why actual debates don’t have moderators.
Howard Kurtz of Fox News provided a relatively good analysis of the debate at http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2016/09/26/clinton-scores-by-staying-on-offense-trump-by-sticking-to-serious-issues.html
Kurtz argued that Clinton stayed on the offensive while Trump countered with serious issues.
As CBS’s Bob Schieffer put it: Trump didn’t lose any voters; Clinton didn’t gain any.
That seems about right to me.
Christoper Harper, a recovering journalist from The Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and The Washington Times, teaches media law.