After the third Democratic Presidential Primary debate, it is unclear what the public has learned about the candidates. Indeed, one could argue that the American people know only marginally more than they did before the first debate on June 26. This observation is not a criticism directed at the Democratic Party because the Republican debates suffer from the same lack of content.
One of the reasons for this phenomenon is that the subject matter of the debates is unlimited. Due to the vast quantities of topics, most areas are not covered. Moderators jump from topic to topic. Those areas that are discussed are not considered with appropriate depth.
A possible solution to this problem is to organize each debate around a different subject area. Each debate would be then further subdivided into topics that are critical to the issue of the debate. The Party and candidates would choose the subject areas and topics. Consequently, they would have more control over the debates and not be dictated to by moderator choices. The Party and candidates would also send a message to voters on what areas they think are important.
The Democratic Party plans to have twelve debates. An example of how to organize the debates is below.
DEBATE SUBJECT AREA TOPICS
1 Economy Manufacturing, Service, High-Tech, Tariffs and Trade
2 Healthcare ObamaCare, Medicare for All, Private Insurance, Health Care Costs
3 Education HeadStart/Pre-K, STEM, Charter Schools, College Loans
4 Immigration Amnesty/DACA, Asylum, Border Crossings, Legal Immigration
5 Foreign Policy China, Russia, NATO, Middle East and Israel
6 Gun Control Second Amendment, AR-15, Assault Weapons, Violence in America
7 Climate Change Clean Air, Clean Water, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Green New Deal, Paris Accord
8 Criminal Justice Reform Mandatory Minimums, Non-Violent Offenders, Violent Offenders, Drug Crimes, First Step Act
9 Racism and Prejudice Racism in America, White Nationalism in America, Affirmative Action
10 Entitlements Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid
11 Federal Debt Annual Deficits, Discretionary Spending, Non-Discretionary Spending, Balanced Budget Act
12 Taxes Tax on the Wealthy, Middle Class Taxes, Capital Gains
The best question to ask the candidates is: “What do you think about ‘TOPIC’ and what, if anything, would you do to change it?” The answer would reveal the candidates’ view on the status quo, if the current situation should be changed, and, if so, how he/she would do it.
With the debates centered around these topics and this main question, one could remove the debate moderators. As I have previously argued, the moderators should be removed from Presidential debates because they come with inherent biases with the topics and questions they choose. Moreover, with the lack of moderators, each candidate will have more time to speak. With a two hour debate of ten candidates centered around up to five topics, each candidate could speak for approximately two and a half minutes per topic or twelve minutes total. This amount is more than the time that half of the candidates each spoke at the third debate.
This new system would give the candidates an equal amount of time to discuss important topics in a subject area, and the American people would have a more informed understanding of each candidates’ views. The debates should not be about how a candidate answers a surprise question from a virtually unlimited supply of topics. Rather, the debates should reveal how candidates would address the important issues facing the nation.