Congress expert Norman Ornstein on what the debate over the debt limit says about dysfunction in Congress, and his ideas for how to fix it.
Candidates for the GOP presidential nomination faced off in Milwaukee last night in their fourth debate this campaign season. Fox Business News and The Wall Street Journal co-hosted the event. Televised political debates garner large audiences – and large profits for the networks. Not everyone is convinced they’re of great value to voters – or democracy. Diane and her guests discuss how the candidates performed and the value of debates in the democratic process.
- Susan Page Washington bureau chief, USA Today
- David Folkenflik Media correspondent, NPR; author of "Murdoch's World: The Last of the Old Media Empires"
- James Thurber Professor and director, Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University; author of "Obama in Office: The First Two Years"; co-editor with Antoine Yoshinaka of "American Gridlock: The Sources, Character and Impact of Political Polarization"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Candidates for the GOP presidential nomination faced off last night in the fourth debate this campaign season. Fox Business News and The Wall Street Journal co-hosted the Milwaukee event. Televised political debates garner large audiences and large profits for the networks. Not everyone is convinced they're of great value to voters or democracy.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about last night's event and the role of debates in the election process, Susan Page of USA Today and James Thurber of American University. Joining us from a studio in New York, David Folkenflik of NPR. I'll be interested in your comments, you questions. Do join us by phone, 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Welcome to all of you.
MR. JAMES THURBERGood morning.
MS. SUSAN PAGEGood morning.
MR. DAVID FOLKENFLIKGood morning.
REHMNice to have you all with us. Susan, tell me what you regarded as the highlights of the main debate.
PAGEYou know, I thought it was a very substantive debate. It was more serious in the exploration of policy, economic and otherwise than we've seen in the previous debates. And it also, I think, exposed kind of the divide in the Republican Party between two groups of candidates, the outsider candidates, the very conservative candidates and candidates that are not really moderate, but they're more pragmatic and more establishment sorts of Republicans.
PAGEAnd you saw that, I think, in particular in the exchange, one of the most heated exchanges of the evening, which was on immigration.
REHMImmigration. Jim Thurber, your reaction.
THURBERWell, I thought that Rubio did very well and he did it in the confrontation with -- over foreign policy with Ron Paul. He came on very strong. I think he was probably the winner, if you want to do that, among them. But generally, debates -- these debates don't have very much impact. It wasn't a game changer for anyone. I think Bush did a little bit better. Trump, a little worse.
THURBERThere were major differences on immigration, as mentioned, but also on job creation. They were a little vague, all of them, on job creation. You know, deregulation and lower taxes and jobs will come. I'm not sure.
REHMDavid Folkenflik, how about you?
FOLKENFLIKI was struck by the ways in which candidates, at time, were able to distinguish themselves. I think Rand Paul engaged, as I think Susan mentioned, kind of a real colliloquy with Marco Rubio indicating that there are differences and tensions and divides between various elements of the Republican Party and often those are papered over in certain kinds of debates so people can paste Hillary Clinton or something like that.
FOLKENFLIKBut these were laid bare there. You know, Jeb Bush was a more interesting participant. People said he had to do well to really convince donors and there was that tension underlying. You know, there is the question of whether Jeb Bush would've had to be exercising his second amendment rights rather than his first amendment rights up there to change the narrative that you see in coverage of him, but it was interesting to see him try to get back into the fray.
FOLKENFLIKJohn Kasich was at once seemingly kind of prickly and petulant at times and yet, getting at some substantive distinctions as well in there. So if you were looking for some understanding, not necessarily specifics and not necessarily comprehensive, certainly a lot of questions evaded, but some understanding of philosophical differences likely to drive some of the economic policies of these potential presidencies, I think you got that from last night's debate.
REHMAll right. I want to put forward a broader question because I, as a voting citizen, am very concerned about this and that is how well these debates are saving our democratic process. And I want to read to you something that Matthew Jordan, who is associate president of media studies at Penn State University, had to say. He said, "Today, the rules of the debate game has shifted to reflect a new media reality, one in which broadcasters have a powerful financial interest in promoting debates centered on entertainment, rather than substantive discussions of policy issue.
REHMIn fact, today's debates can be likened to world wrestling entertainment. There are heroes and villains, winners and losers, entrance themes and announcers, drama and intrigue. Will Biden show? Even an undercard." And finally, he says, "Like it or not, the democratic process has been usurped by an endless ratings drive spectacle and for networks with the debate stripped down production costs and high ratings. It's like hitting the mother lode." Jim Thurber, your reaction.
THURBERI disagree. I think he's overstating this. You got back in the debates, the first televised debate was Kennedy versus Nixon, 66 million people watched that our of 179 million people and the debates since then have had millions of people on the general election. I don't think the networks are out there selecting journalists to do the interviewing in these debates to increase their viewership. They like it. It helps them.
THURBERThe first debates on the Republican side were very different than the Democratic debate. The Democratic debate was focused on policy. It wasn't sort of a circus show. Some of that was driven by the candidates, obviously by Trump. The networks didn't create Trump. He's out there running. So I think that he's overstated it. I think that these debates do a couple things. One, they increase knowledge about issues.
THURBERTwo, they increase knowledge about issues taken and positions taken by the candidates and they set an agenda. The debate over immigration last night will set the agenda for the general election between the Democrats and the Republicans and also on job creation. So I think that's good. It's good for democracy to have this. It's a little sloppy and a little crazy sometimes, but I think it's worth it.
REHMDavid Folkenflik, your reaction. Much as I hate to agree with James Thurber on this, I think it's hard to argue that it's a bad thing for many more people to be added. Think about 2008. In the Democratic primary, you had two leading candidates and John Edwards was in the mix for a bit there, but two Democratic candidates who were seen as heavyweights, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama. And it was before the real collapse of the economy was made evident, you know, later that year in September.
FOLKENFLIKBut in 2008, those debate were well watched. There was a lot of interest. There was no incumbent president so it was, you know, wide open bid for the White House and yet, these ratings, early in the process for the Republican side are wildly outstripping what Clinton and Obama drew in 2008. People are interested. I attribute much of that, most of that to Donald Trump. And I think it is absolutely the case that the networks so want to maximize revenues, that it is important to them and a surprise windfall to them to take whatever money they can out of this.
FOLKENFLIKThey are charging hundreds of thousands of dollars a pop to advertisers in this. And I do think they're selecting, if not the moderators precisely to maximize ratings, they're certainly trying to figure out formats that will do it. And they're trying to puncture the candidates inclinations to not answer questions, to say whatever canned rote little, you know, minute and a half segments they have on offer from their stump speeches and they're doing it with, you know, and Jake Tapper in CNN's case, they're doing it by pitting candidates rhetoric against one another saying, well, candidate X says this about you. What do you have to say?
FOLKENFLIKYou know, by asking people to take pledges raising their hands, yes, no, all these kinds of ways in which they're trying to do it. CNBC in really infusing snark into the debate. I think these formats aren't always successful. I think some of these tactics are misguided, but they're trying to figure out a way to enliven these things to keep people watching and people have been watching.
REHMAll right. Susan.
PAGEYou know, I think there is an item of concern here. Number one, I think the debates are valuable. I think we should have as many debates as the candidates will agree to. I think the fact that the ratings have been so high is a positive thing. It shows people are curious about what's going on. But I do think there is a huge profit motive and a huge ratings motive for the cable TV networks that have been sponsoring these debates. I mean, according the PC we're quoting, CNN charged 40 times what they normally charge for an add on the Republican debate that they had.
PAGEThat is an extraordinary number. Now, to CNN's credit, they at least live streamed it so that anybody who wanted to watch it and had a computer could watch it. Some of these debates have been available only if you subscribe to the cable network or pay a fee online.
REHMNow, I want to hear your thoughts, Susan, on the democratic process and whether you feel that these formats that have been put forward are really enlightening. Are they helping us understand? What's going on?
PAGEYou know, sometimes the formats have been a little different. We saw the moderators last night take a different strategy than the moderators in the previous debate on CNBC. They seem to think that their role was to pose a question and let an answer be given. They didn't do a lot of follow-up. They didn't do a lot of pushback when there was an error, for instance, when Ted Cruz said he wanted to eliminate five departments and he named four of them and then said commerce twice.
PAGEThe moderator did not say, you just said commerce twice. That would've been, I think, an appropriate role for a moderator to take, but they were taking a kind of different approach in this debate. In the previous debate where the moderators were much more aggressive, though, there was criticism of that as well.
REHMSusan Page of USA Today, James Thurber of American University, David Folkenflik of NPR. They're all here and we'll welcome your ideas, your thoughts. Stay with us.
REHMWelcome back. We're talking not only about last night's debate but whether the approach of these debates that we've seen last was the fourth on the Republican side. I'm not sure we can call what the Democrats did a true debate, as much as it was an individual interview with each of those candidates. But here's a tweet from Chrissie, who says, no single question, whether it's serious or not, will help make -- help voters make informed choices if candidates continue to speak half-truths and lies. Susan?
PAGEWell, I think that's true. I think you need someone challenging candidates so that they don't just repeat lines from their stump speech without any -- without any, you know, kind of independent action, and that could be either by other people on stage, you know, you could have a kind of debate where the candidates are challenging one another. You saw a little bit of that last night. Or that can be the role of the moderators.
PAGEBut, you know, one thing that's happened with these ratings getting huge, huge audiences and being huge revenue -- big revenue sources for these networks is that it's changed the power equation a bit with the candidates. You know, you saw Donald Trump flexing his muscle because he knew he would be able to -- you know, and he threatened to pull out of a debate. They caved to his demands.
PAGEAnd you saw one of the candidates suggest that the networks should be paying them for participating in the debate. That is really a reversal of how this has usually worked.
REHMAnd David Folkenflik, here's a tweet for you. The debates on cable TV exclude many people. Why not keep them on broadcast networks? How was that decision made? Do you know?
FOLKENFLIKWell, these are decisions made, in this case, you know, the Republican National Committee decided that it really wanted to get involved. It used to be that, as I understand it from TV executives, that what they do is they talk to the camps of seemingly the most credible, the most popular candidates. A few would -- Susan is probably well-versed in this, as well, but a few would commit to a various campaign, and therefore the other candidates would say I'm on board, too, don't leave me out. And these things would come together.
FOLKENFLIKThis time around, the RNC said, you know, we want to have more control of this process, and so they said any Republican candidate who took part in unsanctioned debates would be penalized as the primary season unfolded. So there's that. You know, it's interesting, though. We're in an age where I would've said, until a couple of years ago, that about 85 percent of American households would've gotten basic cable channels, that is CNBC, CNN and the like, not Fox Business Network, which has struggled more with penetration, because of the prevalence of cable distribution and satellite distribution, about 85 percent of American households.
FOLKENFLIKSo I don't see that as enormously exclusionary. Fox Business Network is live-streaming, you can argue, as an act of civic goodwill but also because they desperately want people to see it. CNN did so, as well, even though it has almost blanket, you know, distribution by cable and satellite providers. But, you know, we are in a cord-cutting world. There are people who either can't afford or more likely choose not to do that, and therefore, you know, people have to figure out ways to get at this stuff.
FOLKENFLIKBut, you know, the funny thing with all of our frustrations about these debates, just rest on this, is I think most of it stems from how many people are up on that stage. I think that inhibits our ability to really unpack what the candidates are saying. It inhibits the ability of the moderators to drill down, to hold them accountable. It adds to the frustrations of both the candidates and the camps themselves and their partisans viewing in the audience. I think almost everything that people are most angry about stems from that.
THURBERSo let's put this in the context of 2012. 2012, they had too many debates, the Republicans, and there was an average viewership of six million. The average viewership this year is over 20 million, 23 million, and I think the Republican National Committee wanted to intervene and make sure that there were fewer, and they'd have wider viewership. Yes, the networks and the cable TV networks are making a lot of money. That bothers me. I want to get that out. But also I think it's good for democracy.
THURBERThese are very early events. They will not have dramatic effects, in my opinion. What will have a dramatic effect, well, who wins in Iowa and New Hampshire. What they're doing on the ground in New Hampshire and Iowa is not greatly affected by these debates, according to the surveys. So I think we should remember that, that the ground war is where it's going to win. These are interesting, they're entertaining. They in fact are almost worthless in the first ones in terms of people attacking each other.
THURBERI think the American public has found out a little bit about policy, a lot about personality, which is very important.
PAGEYou know, I think traditionally it's been the case that field operations, TV ads, have meant more, have been more influential than debates, and I think that's been different this year. And maybe part of it is because, as David said, the Republican field is so big. But the debates have been the way that Donald Trump has made his case that he should be taken as a credible candidate. And to the surprise of many of us, it's been the way Ben Carson has become the chief challenger to Donald Trump, and it's the way we've discovered that Jeb Bush is really not -- has not been a very good candidate, although at the point he announced his candidacy, we thought he was going to be the frontrunner.
PAGEThat's -- his poor performance in debates has really undermined his standing there. So there will be a time, of course who wins in Iowa, who wins in New Hampshire, who wins in South Carolina will be critical then, but this is really laying the groundwork for those contests in a more serious than I think debate traditionally have played.
FOLKENFLIKAnd it's getting rid of these second-tier candidates. You know, Perry and Walker are out. Others will drop out. That's important, but it's not because of some dramatic event. It's just sort of happening incrementally. Now the Bush thing is a great surprise. The fact that he couldn't do very well in the debates is very, very important.
REHMNow Susan, you mentioned Ted Cruz and the gaffe with saying commerce twice. What about the fact that Ben Carson is simply saying, you know, I'm a truthful man, no back-and-forth questioning there. Is that because it was supposed to be focused on economic issues?
PAGEYou know, I think it was in part because the debate had been billed as one that was going to focus in-depth on economic issues. I think also it reflected kind of the tone of the questions through the whole evening. The fact is Marco Rubio was not challenged for his position on immigration when the discussion was immigration. He held back then. The moderator did not then turn to him and say, you co-sponsored a big immigration overhaul. Where do you stand now on this?
PAGESo I think that for better or worse, the moderators took a different approach, and maybe it's good to have a variety of approaches in different debates. Just one other thing, you know, one reason we have fewer debates this time is because the RNC and the DNC weighed, and they didn't weigh in for reasons of democracy. They weighed in because they thought the large number of debates that they had in 2012 hurt their candidates because it kept putting them on the spot.
PAGESo that's why the number of debates have been limited on both sides this time.
THURBERYou know, the moderators didn't point out the fact that the economy is doing pretty well, also. And they kept talking about job creation. Well, this president has created a lot of jobs. We have five percent unemployment. The deficit is going down. Percent GDP debt is going down. It's pretty -- looking pretty good, and no one mentioned that. It's crazy, in my opinion.
REHMBut there's still Donald Trump talking about throwing out or arresting 11 million illegal immigrants. How is that going to play, David Folkenflik?
FOLKENFLIKWell, right now they're playing to a Republican electorate. So right now they're narrow-casting. Think of this as cable as opposed to broadcast, if you're thinking about it as a TV metaphor, right. They're looking for a much more narrow niche, and with so many candidates still in play, Trump is looking for the largest plurality, not for an outright majority even of that party.
FOLKENFLIKSo, you know, I think that there'll be plenty of -- in the -- I would be just absolutely astonished if Trump were to take this nomination, but, you know, that's why I'm not betting money on this stuff. Things happen. Voters make their own choices. If Trump were somehow to have the nomination, they will have so much tape on the Democratic side to use against him for a general election that it'll be highly entertaining to watching. I mean -- which is why people, by the way, which is precisely why people are watching. They want to know what this guy is going to say next.
THURBERAnd the reason there were high-fives in the Clinton campaign, and actually there was a tweet that said they were doing high-fives, on the issue of immigration is that the Republican Party is further alienating Latinos in America and other immigrants in America. Seventy-three percent of Latinos voted for Obama in the last election. That's very critical in Colorado and in Florida and a couple of other states. If you have eight battleground states, and two of them you write off, you're in trouble.
REHMOkay, suppose -- I mean, I'm really worried here. I know you all think this is an appropriate way to go. We're understanding who these people are, what they think. Just put yourself outside this country, watching this kind of debate. What do you think then, Susan? Do you think it really is representative of a sensible approach to electing a president?
PAGEWell, Diane, I guess I do. I think, you know, look, it's a big field, that creates some problems, but it also gives voters a lot of choices.
PAGEIt's a pretty diverse field. You know, we make the point that Republicans have trouble appealing to the increasingly diverse American electorate, but you had an Indian-American, you had two Cuban-Americans up there, you had an African-American, and you had a woman. I mean, I think that was interesting. And you had a variety of points of view.
PAGEAs the Republican Party has gotten bigger, it's become a more diverse party ideologically, and you saw some of that. The difference between John Kasich and Ted Cruz in terms of the ideology the right approach to public policy, is pretty broad. So yeah, I guess it's messy, and there's some silliness to it, but yeah, I guess I do think it's -- I think if I was abroad, I'd think look at that vibrant democracy.
THURBERSo the people abroad that I talk to, and I go there frequently, think our whole system is a little wacky because they don't understand the primaries. They think it's all about money. it's not all about money. It's about other things, too, mobilizing people, getting them organized, having a clear strategy, theme and message, but it looks very messy to them, and they can't believe that there is a person like Trump that's on top of the pack right now, and Carson.
THURBERAnd I just came back from another country, and they -- you know, they were all wondering, well, does Trump have a chance? Now I said, well, it's not probable, but it's looking like he may do well in Iowa and New Hampshire. And...
PAGEYou know, I think you made such a good point there, Jim, about how this has in some ways undercut the power of money. Who's got money? Jeb Bush has money. That hasn't rescued him in this debate, in this contest, at least so far. These debates have had a role in making other things count more than your money and your name.
REHMAll right, we've got lots of callers. Let's open the phones first to Sharon in Winter Garden, Florida. You're on the air.
SHARONI thank you for taking this call because (unintelligible)
REHMI'm sorry, I wonder if you could speak up, please.
SHARONYes, is this better?
SHARONYes, I am furious about not being able to see these, quote, debates because I am not a subscriber. I don't have cable or satellite or Internet at home. And this excludes a huge number of people. It's not democratic. I don't know if anybody on your panel remembers the Kennedy-Nixon debates, they were not commercial. There were no commercials. This has just become so commercialized.
REHMAll right, David?
FOLKENFLIKWell, I mean, I think it's also worth pointing out we didn't used to attach so much importance to the primary debates. We're comparing a presidential debate, the general election between the two major party nominees in Kennedy-Nixon, and remember that itself was a -- was an innovation, an experiment. People think of that now as almost as though it was a complete public service, but among those involved in helping orchestrate that was a young Don Hewitt, who went on to create "60 Minutes," and he always had a sense of that things had to be entertaining and that there had to be stakes and drama, as well as information elicited and extracted.
FOLKENFLIKYou know, one of the things to remember in these debates is people present information during campaigns, whether in debates or during their campaignings, and you get a sense of what they're like, and you get a sense -- or least what they present themselves as being, and get a sense of what their philosophies may be in governing, and yet people -- you know, Barack Obama famously mocked Hillary Clinton for the idea of an individual mandate in trying to extend health care.
FOLKENFLIKYou know, he then absorbed and ran with it. So, you know, it's -- they're -- you can go both ways on that.
REHMAll right, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. To Rockford, Illinois. Ken, thanks for joining us.
KENOh, you're welcome. It's a privilege to be on the air.
REHMGo right ahead, sir.
KENYes, I am concerned about the disinformation and misinformation that is unchallenged at these debates, whether the Republican or Democrat side. I would suggest and submit that PBS and NPR and you, yourself, conduct a debate. This show just shows civility and knowledge and correct information, and we don't get that in the debates. We get a lot of hyperbole and outright lies. Carly simply lied about Hillary, and that goes unchallenged.
PAGEYou know, Ken, I agree. I think that an appropriate role for the moderators is to be challenging the candidates both when they say things that aren't true or when they say things that are inconsistent with what they said before or when they just refuse to answer the question because what you often see in these debates an interviews, generally, Diane knows this very well, is you ask a question, and they answer the question they wish you had asked.
PAGEAnd it's important to follow up and say that isn't the question I asked, please answer my question.
REHMWe've got an email here from Peggy, who says, am I the only one who thinks Marco Rubio sounds very scripted? Every one of his answers sounded as though they were memorized. Jim Thurber?
THURBERThere is that, but, you know, candidacies have to have a clear strategy theme and message, and he kept repeating it, repeating it. He's very quick, very facile, and yet they did come from stump speeches. It's important. Back to the issue about misinformation, though, there was misinformation in terms of immigration, especially tax reform, all these assertions about how this would create all kinds of new jobs. No one really pushed it.
THURBERThere was, with respect to minimum wage, there's no evidence that minimum wage always will create joblessness. It's about 50-50. And then there are all these assertions about deregulation, that you deregulate, it's going to create jobs. Where's the evidence of that?
FOLKENFLIKWell, it's just striking, you know, to build on what Jim and Susan have just said. You know, I think on the Republican side, there have been a good number of opportunities to learn more about these folks and there are moments that are missed opportunities, like, as Jim was saying, in immigration. But you think of Marco Rubio, who was somebody who promoted in some ways what people consider a kind of immigration reform and has been rhetorically backing away from that as he presents his case to the Republican electorate.
FOLKENFLIKThis morning our colleague, Steve Inskeep on Morning Edition, really did I think a thoughtful job slowly listening, painstakingly, tooth by tooth dragged out, but nonetheless, you know, that Rubio clearly still supports a path to citizenship for those who are in this country some would say illegally, others would say without documentation. His presence in the debate allowed for that to occur.
REHMAll right, we'll take a short break here. When we come back, more of your questions, comments, your phone calls, your email. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back. Jim Thurber, you just said what has been on my mind. One can hardly refer to these presentations as debates.
THURBERWell, remember in high school when you were on the debate team.
REHMI wish I had been.
THURBERIt's very different. It's -- that's like the Lincoln Douglas debates of 1858 when they were running for the Senate. They've got one hour. One hour response, et cetera. No one mediated it. There were not journalists there asking them questions. The crowd, afterwards, asked them questions. This, these are not debates. They've never really been debates. They've used journalist moderators that ask good questions, but they're not like, present the case, present the case, then refute like a regular debate. These are really narrow questions that are sort of like zingers.
THURBERTo try to find out, yeah, sometimes gotcha, sometimes not, to see what these people believe.
REHMWould we be better served by an old fashioned debate, Susan?
PAGEWell, I think we would be better served by a debate in which the candidates engage with one another. But David made the excellent point that it's hard to do when there are 11 people, 10 people.
REHMThat many. Yeah.
PAGEEven eight people on stage, as we saw last night. When we get down, when you get to the Democratic debate that our friend, John Dickerson is moderating Saturday night in Des Moines, you know, let's see if he is able to engender more of a real debate among the three candidates onstage. That is an easier task when there are three people instead of eight.
REHMAll right, here's an email from Kit in Florida. The partisan audience at these events is a distraction. We don't need to hear applause for hate the media, Obama is horrible, et cetera. Either get rid of the audience or have them shut up. David Folkenflik.
FOLKENFLIKYou know, I'm kind of agnostic about some of this stuff. I -- it's not my favorite thing, and yet, you know, you're talking to people who want to be engaged. You know, sometimes, some of the old fashioned ones were a little airless and seemed, you know, there are candidates that feed off a human presence. And there are different formats to be had here. You mentioned John Dickerson. I was listening to his political podcast, Whistlestop Tour, the other day.
FOLKENFLIKAnd he reminded me of this great, all listeners, of this great exchange that Bill Clinton and Jerry Brown had on the Donahue Show in the 1992 primaries. Just fantastic. Bill Clinton kind of took it over. And it was as though he was moderating a discussion and debate with Jerry Brown himself. Fairly substantive, and what was, you know, a seemingly informal and insubstantial setting and format. I think that interesting things can arise when you allow people to have time to actually speak and to interact with one another.
REHMAll right, to Middletown, Maryland. Marty, you're on the air.
MARTYHi Ms. Rehm. Thank you very much for taking my call.
MARTYI have a comment and a question. Briefly. First is that I think gotcha, the so-called gotcha questions, are extremely important. Because the ability to think quickly and reasonably on one's feet with unexpected circumstances is prerequisite for the job of President of the United States.
MARTYAnd my question. That's my comment. My question is who in their right mind would actually want to be President of the United States?
REHMThat's a great question. At this point in our history.
PAGEWell, I actually disagree. I think just about 94 members of the US Senate would like to be US President.
PAGEI think there, you know, 45 of the 50 Governors think they would make good Presidents. If you care about public policy and the direction of the country, what greater job can there be than to lead this nation? So, I know it's hard. You know, in some ways, running for President is a pretty grueling and brutal process, but there is an enormous prize at the end of it.
FOLKENFLIKAnd there's, they, these people have insatiable egos. They need to be affirmed externally. They are narcissistic to a certain extent. I'm sorry, they are, if you've met any of these politicians. And so, they look at the President, they disagree on policy, but they say, I can do that. You know, I'm just as smart as that guy. And I'm more articulate. And so the Senate, especially, becomes an incubator of candidates because they're seeing the President quite often. But, you know, it's the people from the outside that frequently win.
FOLKENFLIKRemember Jimmy Carter, he was an outsider that's an equivalent year. Because the Democrats had 14 candidates that year. 14. And Udall almost beat Jimmy Carter. He was an outsider, but he's the guy -- he seems like he doesn't have a strong ego, but he has a strong ego. And those people want to give to public service so they can affirm who they are, in my opinion.
REHMAll right, to Bedford, New Hampshire. Hi Frank, you're on the air.
FRANKGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my question.
FRANKThis is an important debate, or, discussion you're having this morning. Last night, Gerard Baker, who's Editor in Chief of the Wall Street Journal, asked Carly Fiorina a very important question about the last quarter century. He said the average number of jobs created per month under the last three Presidents were, under Obama, 107,000 jobs a month, Clinton, 240,000 jobs a month. And George W. Bush, only 13,000 jobs per month. And the exact quote after that was, Miss Fiorina, how are you going to respond to the claim that Democratic Presidents are better at creating jobs than Republicans?
FRANKShe never answered the question. She said, yes, problems have gotten worse under Democrats. And she told the story of a woman she met the other day. And my point is, when an important question like that is asked, and it's going to affect the Republican approach to campaigning in the election next year, and it's not answered, why don't the commentators, the interviewers, say, you know, that's an important question. Can we get back to answering that please?
THURBERI agree with the caller. I -- there's a great deal of literature by economists that show that Democrats do a better job with the economy than Republicans. And it may be other reasons, but they happen to be in office two thirds of the time they're doing better than the Republicans in terms of the performance of the economy. One measure, of course, is job creation and he had the right data on that. And she didn't answer it. No one answered it. I mean, we have a five percent unemployment rate. We've created all kinds of jobs.
THURBERWe've gone from 10 percent unemployment to five percent unemployment, and it's been remarkable. And it's because, partially, because of the leadership of the President, intervention by government.
REHMOkay, let's go to Detroit, Michigan. Tim, you're on the air.
TIMGood morning, everyone. My comment, question. Your guest mentioned we're at five percent unemployment. We all know that's not true. We have 360 million people. A third of them are children. We have 90 million people living off the government. Our real unemployment is probably 17 to 23 percent. Obamacare, also, what that does, is it's taking jobs away.
REHMAll right. Susan.
PAGEWell, actually, the unemployment rate is five percent. Now, there are people who are counted, not counted in that rate. Because they have stopped looking for jobs, discouraged workers. That's been a problem for many as the -- and so that's, Tim, that is certainly true. But the unemployment rate is five percent and it's measured the way we've measured it for decades. And it means that you have the ability to compare the unemployment rate over time.
FOLKENFLIKWell, I just think that this sort of plays into the question that are related that we've been hearing. Questions of, are we getting follow up questions? Questions of, are we pressing people to answer the questions that are asked? The question from the caller a couple of moments ago about gotcha questions being important. And you're seeing, in some ways, last night, I think, what you saw were a scaling back a bit, sort of, to compensate for what were the perceived sins of the previous CNBC debate where they thought they were too aggressive at pushing at things.
FOLKENFLIKTo my mind, I think, you know, the moderators, the journalists involved in this, if they're going to participate, they're going to have to feel free to follow up on what they think. They may have to say, you know, that's a perfectly good answer. But it's not an answer to the question I actually happened to ask. Let's try again. And you saw Maria Bartiromo, you saw Neil Cavuto early on in the debate last night say, okay, just to be clear, you know, do you support this? Do you oppose this? You saw a little bit of that going on.
FOLKENFLIKBut, you know, there is some, you talked about leverage earlier, there is some sense of degree to which the -- a number of the networks involved have already, in a sense, shown deference to the Republican Party's wishes. You know, I think it's very striking that, except for the Fox outlets, that the networks have agreed to have, essentially, a conservative media swimming buddy for each of the main moderators. You see Rich Lowry for the now suspended NBC debate in, I believe, February.
FOLKENFLIKHe's, of course, the editor of The National Review. Hugh Hewitt, a conservative and very smart talk show host for Salem Media on radio, has been working with CNN. He was with Jake Tapper earlier this fall. He'll be with Wolf Blitzer for the next CNN debate. You know, that's, essentially, baking into the equation already a conservative outlook as part of the questioning in a way that you're not seeing on the Democratic side. Although, obviously, quite recently, we saw Rachel Maddow of MSNBC, a pronounced liberal, moderate not a debate, but a town hall in which she questioned, I thought very gently, each of the leading Democratic candidates still in the race.
FOLKENFLIKSo, you know, there's a way in which, there's, you know, I think people with a point of view can have interesting things to say. Jorge Ramos has been involved in debates in earlier campaign cycles. He's very opinionated on immigration and certain other issues. He's with Univision, of course, the anchor there. But I think it is interesting the way in which things are baked into the mix, and I think that may affect the degree to which people follow up on certain questions as well.
PAGEAnd yet, you know, what was interesting, the Fox News debate, which was the first debate, had some of the most aggressive questioning we've seen. Very effective questioning, and pushing the candidates to answer questions. Asking the candidates about what their biggest vulnerabilities and yet, that's from a network that features a lot of conservative commentators. And therefore, did not need the conservative swimming buddy that David mentioned.
REHMYou know, the other question I have for you. Did anybody in your mind last night come out with answers as to how to improve the economy? They may have argued about numbers and flat taxes, or, I mean, in your view. Jim.
THURBERWell, there were very few specific comments about how to do that, other than these general comments about flat taxes, et cetera. De-regulation, but Rubio did say something that's very important, and that is he had a tax plan to help families, a tax deduction for children to help them. And if they made below a certain level, they would get money back from the government. And that was a very specific thing. And then he was criticized, of course, by Paul. You're not really a conservative.
THURBERYou're really using another entitlement program from government to help people, but that was very specific, in my opinion.
PAGEThere were two exchanges that I thought were actually illuminating, about some of the choices that we face as a nation. One was the immigration exchange, which we've talked about, where you had Trump on one side. You had Kasich and Bush on the other side talking about what should be our approach to the 11 or 12 million people who are in this country without papers? The other was, the second part of the exchange that Jim was just mentioning, and that is when Rubio and Rand Paul discussed, in a rather heated way, what is the appropriate US role in the world?
PAGEWhat is the appropriate role, how much does the US spend when it comes to US military forces -- use of force in the world? What is the importance, what is the cost of that? I thought that was also an exchange that was valuable.
FOLKENFLIKBut also, added to that was Bush's comment was that we need to be leaders in the world. That was sort of, no one really remembered that in any of the reports today. That's very important. You can't just leave the field. There will be a vacuum. Putin will be there or other people will be there and I thought that was very important.
REHMAnd you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. Okay, let's go to Kensington, Maryland. Joan, you're on the air.
JOANOh, hi Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
JOANAs I listen to you guys, I wish advertisers would pay to have this panel on TV and have everybody watch it. Because I think it's fair and balanced and it's also very simple to understand. But the one comment I wanted to call and make, referencing back to the number of people watching, particularly the Republican debate, since they're so high, you know, lots of people stop and watch a train wreck, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they think it's a good thing.
JOANIn other words, I just, you know, it's obviously, to me, that Donald Trump has -- is bringing in these huge numbers and it's turned into kind of like a reality show.
REHMAll right. Reality show. Susan.
PAGEBut you know, Joan, one of the things I thought was interesting last night was how subdued Donald Trump was. And I think we have seen a big...
REHMWhy do you think that was?
PAGE...well, I think there were two reasons. One is because on specifics of policy, he is less strong than when he can just make declarative sentences. And I think the other is that Donald Trump is trying to moderate his tone a bit as he becomes a more serious candidate for the nomination. As he is taken seriously as a potential Republican nominee, I think he has really moderated his tone as a candidate.
REHMA lot of our listeners have called in to say they'd like to see a return to the League of Women Voters and that kind of presentation. Remind us, Jim, of what the League...
THURBERWell, the League of Women Voters helps organize the Presidential debates in the general election. They have not been involved in the primary election debates. I should say that the American public in a Pugh, in a recent Pugh Survey, thinks pretty well of these debates. Two thirds of those that responded say the debates are very or somewhat helpful. So, they may be a little crazy sometimes, and they may be gotcha, but the public thinks that generally, they are helpful. And I think that's important.
PAGEAnd of course, as Jim knows, the League of Women Voters used to do the general election debates. In recent campaigns, they've been done by the Commission on Presidential Debates set up to make sure the debates take place. Because it's not a given that both candidates will agree to debates in the general election and it's so important that they do so.
FOLKENFLIKAnd it's not given that they will have debates. Now, yes. But in 1960, we had debates. '64, '68, '72, we didn't have debates. League of Women Voters came in and did '76, and then we had a commission.
REHMHow soon will we see the disappearance of the so-called undercard? Susan.
PAGEWell, I keep waiting for that to happen. But as long as you have this debate -- a debate that includes the Governor of New Jersey, the Governor of Louisiana, I mean, serious people who are potential nominees, but are very low in the polls. It seems to me, you're probably going to keep seeing them for a while.
THURBERI think the cutoff of 2.5 percent is good for a while, but I think some of these people are going to drop below that and they'll, like, Graham or others, you won't hear from them again, probably.
REHMAll right, we'll leave it at that. James Thurber of American University, David Folkenflik of NPR, Susan Page of USA Today, who sits in rather frequently for Diane Rehm. Thank you all so much.
PAGEThank you, Diane.
THURBERThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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