Sorry, thirsty media: Next week's Democratic debate won't be a GOP-style bloodbath

Fox News' Howard Kurtz whines that the candidates are unlikely to "slam each other." The horror!

Published October 9, 2015 5:00PM (EDT)

  (AP/Reuters/Cheryl Senter/Cliff Owen/Patrick Semansky)
(AP/Reuters/Cheryl Senter/Cliff Owen/Patrick Semansky)

Congratulations to Fox News media reporter Howard Kurtz. On Thursday, he wrote what might be the most vacuous column about the 2016 presidential election cycle so far. As a prize, I award him no points, and may God have mercy on his soul.

Kurtz is feeling very salty about the distinct lack of excitement surrounding the first Democratic debate, set for next Tuesday in Las Vegas. Sure, the Democrats having a smaller field and significantly less batshit-crazy personalities than the Republicans might make for a sane and sober debate about issues that affect the everyday lives of Americans who live outside of Washington and New York. But where’s the sizzle, darn it?

As Bernie Sanders prepares for his first television faceoff with Hillary Clinton, the excitement is building.

“I look forward to an exchange of ideas with Secretary Clinton. She and I have significant disagreements on a number of issues,” the Vermont senator told reporters.

With that kind of trash talk, I can hardly wait.

What will Tuesday’s CNN debate look like if the two leading candidates aren’t going to slam each other? I wouldn’t gamble on the Las Vegas event being scintillating television.

What a tragedy for Howard Kurtz’s own amusement that the Democratic debate won’t feature the insult-comedy stylings of a blustering real-estate mogul or the low-energy musings of a neurosurgeon who has apparently read too many Jack Reacher novels. What a shame that the debaters might wind up discussing policy instead of competing to declare which of them was more horrified by some phony antiabortion videos.

Maybe Kurtz is trolling CNN, his former employer. After all, the first GOP debate that aired on his current employer Fox News was the most-watched primary debate in history. It was also a garish spectacle that might have had the ancient Greeks shaking their heads and wondering what they were thinking when they invented this whole democracy thing. Debate-watching parties were held. Drinking games were devised. The whole day leading up to the primetime debate had the feel of a college preparing for a campus-wide Halloween party.

But can anyone recall even one policy position or proposal recited from that stage that might explain how any of these candidates would deal with the actual problems facing America? Doubtful. With ten candidates manning the lecterns, there was little time or space for actual debate. But there was plenty of time for schoolyard taunting that pundits like Kurtz could use to keep score: Trump lands a haymaker on Jeb Bush! Rand Paul effectively attacks Chris Christie! Ben Carson speaks at a level approaching audible!

Kurtz suggests the moderators, Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon, will have to provide the fireworks while getting in some shots at Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton for avowing ahead of time to talk about their proposals and not attack each other on personal terms. As if the job of the candidates is not to explain why we should vote for them, but to put on a really mind-blowing show.

That Kurtz should publish this column on the same day that the entire GOP caucus in the House of Representatives descended into chaos over Kevin McCarthy’s surprise announcement that he would not run for Speaker only adds to the irony. Combined with this bizarre primary that has Trump and Carson as the leading candidates for the nomination, the Republican Party looks from the outside like a roiling cauldron of bedlam, about to fracture at the seams. By contrast, simply holding a low-key event devoid of the Republicans’ traveling-carnival-on-mescaline atmosphere gives Democrats a chance to present themselves as the serious-minded, low-drama party, ready to roll up its sleeves and get to work on solutions to the nation’s problems.

Oh, but it won’t make for lively enough television to satisfy Howard Kurtz and his brand of mindless, post-time-at-Pimlico political coverage. Well then, everyone can just flip the channel to NCIS and watch a bunch of stuff get blown up instead.

By Gary Legum

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