The second Republican primary debate took place Wednesday night. Despite the publicity stunt Donald Trump pulled in an attempt to get CNN to donate the show’s ad revenue to veterans’ charities, the night was a major success for the media company. According to CNN Money, the show averaged 22.9 million viewers. It was the most-watched program in CNN history.
CNN isn't the only one benefiting — the 2016 presidential race has been a media cash cow. Trump was exaggerating in his open letter to CNN’s Jeff Zucker when he said the “tremendous increase in viewer interest and advertising is due 100% to ‘Donald J. Trump,’” but he definitely was getting at a truth. Rather than providing a platform for politicians to constructively discuss the policies they would implement as president, companies like Fox News and CNN have turned the debates into reality show style faceoffs. They thrive on conflict and controversy, like Trump insulting Rand Paul’s looks or getting into a spat with Bush over his use of the Spanish language.
Consequently, these companies also ask a lot of pointless questions. Towards the end of the debate last night, the moderator asked the candidates which woman they would like to see on the $10 bill. The responses gave some humorous insight into the minds of the candidates, but did little to further discussion as to how the nation could be bettered. Mike Huckabee, for instance would put his wife on the bill. Rubio, Cruz and Trump would put Rosa Parks (or, in the case of the latter, his daughter Ivanka). Bush would go with Margaret Thatcher (a statement he’s already backtracked on today). Fiorina, the lone woman on stage, said replacing Hamilton with a woman would be nothing but a symbolic gesture and wouldn’t help the important cause of woman’s rights.
The candidates were also asked what their Secret Service code names would be should they win the election. Again, the answers were as absurd as the question. Fiorina quickly, inexplicably, answered “Secretariat.” Bush said “Everready,” joked that he picked that name because it’s “high energy,” then high-fived Trump. Trump said “humble” and got a laugh. Huckabee said “Duck Hunter,” and Paul said “Justice Never Sleeps.”
Questions like these are entertaining, but they should be reserved for game shows and beauty pageants. They have nothing to do with running the country. There were some important policy issues discussed during the debate, sure, but it would be tough to say that anyone watching came out with a better understanding of how any of these candidates would make a positive difference for the country if elected to the highest executive office.
The Democrats, meanwhile, haven’t even had a chance to discuss anything. The first debate is scheduled for October 13 and will, again, be hosted by CNN and sponsored by Facebook. That means moderator Anderson Cooper will likely take more pointless questions from “social media” and distract from real issues. Clinton will probably be forced to talk about her emails. The question about the $10 bill might come up again. Who knows. We’ll have to wait an unnecessarily long amount of time to find out.
It’s upsetting that the American political process has turned into such a media spectacle. Everyone is culpable. Companies like CNN make exorbitant profits off outlandish characters like Trump, but the public is responsible too. We’re the ones tuning in to see what he does next, clicking on all of his headlines. We’re less concerned with fixing the country and more content with watching our leaders quarrel for our own personal enjoyment. There’s room for dumb questions in a debate — it forces candidates to think quickly and perhaps shed some light on their personalities — yet there should also be room for serious discussion devoid of ads or entertainment. Debates, like Trump said, should be a public service. Unfortunately, no one would watch.
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