As you can tell from the title, I am no fan of the debate system. Seeing two candidates vaguely talk about policies they only half believe in for allegedly “two minutes” a question, does not inform voters on the stark differences between these politicians. Actually a debate does not really help the candidates that much. The largest “debate bump” was a 3% swing to Gore in 2000. How well did that work?
If you actually want a “debate” that would help determine which candidate would be better on his feet, I will give you an alternative. Each candidate has to play 5 games of chess simultaneously. The first game would be against one another. The second game is against the current Speaker. The third would be against Majority or Minority Leader in the Senate, depending which leader was from the opposite party of the particular candidate. The fourth game would be against a governor to be named at the start of the debate. Finally, the fifth game would be against a world leader, also to be named. Of course both candidates would have to run from each game to the next. Meanwhile, these games would be taking place in front of the White House Press Corps who would be asking questions as the games go on. The debates finally end when all of the games conclude.
Of course the first one should be enough to determine the differences between the two candidates, but the networks would never go along with just one because it would cut into their ratings. As a sweetener for the networks, I would give them four debates. The second debate will be a game of monopoly. It would be just one game, but the White House press corps will still be asking questions as the game goes on. Similarly to the second debate, the third and fourth debate would be in the same format but the games would be different. For the third would be Texas Hold ‘Em, while the forth would be a match of Risk.
Short of these four “debates”, there will not be any sort of “gentleman’s debate” that will help voters make up their mind.
I am the first to admit that I am a realist. Though I like to call a realist just a romantic forced to live in the real world, the philosophy is a little darker than that. For all the poetic articulation of policy, like they do in our current debates, this matters only for a little in the face of cruel, impersonal systemic force that effect governing. What a candidate says and what the system will allow him to accomplish in office may not intersect.
If you actually look at the first debate format I purpose it does more to reveal a candidates ability to govern with multiple factors beyond his control under constant scrutiny. In the first match the candidates go head to head.
Running to the next table, they both would play against the Speaker. Technically the speaker could forfeit against his party’s candidate. This could accurately reflect the working arrangement between the two after the election, but it might make the candidate seem like he got a pass. But don’t most candidates get a pass from the Speaker of the House if they are in the same party?
After completing his move in the second game, the candidates then rush down to face the opposing party’s Senate Leader. Facing off against the Senate is much more challenging then the House. This forces the candidate to show how he can out maneuver the intricacies of the institution of the Senate.
Sprinting to the next table, the candidates play against a governor. There are fifty governors each with their own agendas and aspirations. They can prove difficult for a president to handle. Granted it wouldn’t be like 1861, but the Republican governors have been a thorn in Obama’s side over the Affordable Care Act. Governors do wield more power than we tend to think. As president, the candidate may have to battle against them. Seeing how he can handle that matchup would be nice to see.
Once that move is completed, the candidates then play against a foreign leader. This is to reflect the role of foreign affairs. Being able to contend with a foreign power is a good skill for both candidates to show off.
Meanwhile, in the background constantly the White House Press Corps is just asking questions about everything. They scrutinize the candidates every move. This makes the decision making that much harder.
This system actually reveals something about the candidates. This would show how the candidates make decisions with consequences on multiple fronts under constant pressure in a chaotic environment. After all is that what being president is all about?