Debate moderators can learn from pastor in Flint about shutting down Trump

pastor-shuts-down-trumpDo you remember back in 2012 when debate moderator Candy Crowley interrupted Mitt Romney for having his facts mixed up? There was a big brouhaha about that and it might have cost Crowley her job. It’s taboo in a debate for a moderator to challenge the veracity of a candidate, and it would become an absolute circus in 2016 with Donald Trump, who seems to be challenged in saying what actually happened in the past, what is happening now, and what might happen in the future.

But the biggest problem is getting a straight answer from candidates or their surrogates. When confronted with a question that they don’t want to answer (most questions), the frequent modus operandi is to deflect the question and morph it into an opportunity to criticize their opponent. To control this errant behavior requires a moderator to immediately step in and stop a candidate who deviates.You don’t think that it can be done? Well watch what Rev. Faith Green Timmons did yesterday in Flint, MI when Trump deviated from addressing Flint’s water problem and tried to attack Hillary Clinton.


Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton has recently joined Trump in focusing more on lambasting her opponent than on speaking positively about her ideas and qualifications. Hopefully the low point is when she took a bridge too far and criticized Trump’s supporters rather than the candidate. She didn’t use an adjective to describe them, instead she turned an adjective into a noun and called half of his supporters “deplorables.” It was a speech, so there was no one to stop it.

But the Trumpians are by far the worst of the turnabout artists. No one is more skillful at it than recently anointed campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway. In a nearly six-minute interview with CNN’s Alisyn Camerota, she “respectfully” turned every question about Trump into a criticism of Clinton.


Example #1:

Camerota (interviewer): She has said now that she was suffering from pneumonia. She got the diagnosis on Friday. This is all Mr. Trump has released about his health, four paragraphs, as you know, from his Gastroenterologist who says that, “Mr Trump is in, his health is astonishingly excellent.” It also says that, “All of his latest medical examinations and tests were only positive results.” Which of course is funny because that means something’s wrong. That’s not what he meant. How can this be considered transparent?

Conway (campaign surrogate): Wow, you can laugh all you want at the medical report, but as far as I can see, there are two major party candidates running for president, and only one of them has pneumonia and lied about it, especially to the press because she always thinks that she has … She treats you all like second class citizens, won’t have a press conference, and when she pretends to have press available. “I’m going to be uplifting and aspirational and all,” then goes onto attack tens of millions of Americans the very next day.

Example #2:

Camerota: What exactly will he be releasing? His entire medical history, or just the results of the last checkup?

Conway: I don’t know, but I’ll tell you what he won’t be releasing. He won’t be releasing the fact that he had pneumonia for two days and lied about it.

Example #3:

Camerota: Well, you’re his campaign manager, which is why we’re asking you questions about Donald Trump. We have people from the Clinton Camp, and her surrogates, and we ask about her.

Conway: They talk about Donald Trump.

Example #4:

Camerota: Has Donald Trump, or will he release anything from the IRS, a letter from the IRS proving that he’s under audit?

Conway: I don’t know. Why? In other words why are you … Are you calling him a liar?

Camerota: Well, we’re taking his word for it.

Conway: Are you calling him a liar? We’re taking Hillary Clinton’s word that she was overheated and didn’t have pneumonia, or that she’s going to be aspirational and uplifting, or she’s going to start talking to the press again. I mean, seriously, we’re running against a Clinton, and we’re going to challenge someone’s veracity?

Camerota never cut Conway off when Conway twisted a question about Trump into a diatribe about Clinton. Perhaps this is understandable, because if she or any other interviewer from the mainstream media does not let a guest answer a question, then they run the risk of never again having that guest and his/her compatriots back on the channel.

But this would be different in a debate. NBC’s Lester Holt is moderating the first debate on Monday, September 26. What if he stated at the beginning that he is not going to tolerate any non-answers, be they directed at their opponent or simply refusal to respond directly to the question. If he enforced it by turning off their microphones when they deviated, he would have them at his mercy. He would be justified in doing this because the American people deserve answers rather than platitudes or insults. If either of the candidates chose to walk off the stage, it would be at their own peril.

And by the way, Flint would get clean water a lot faster.

Arthur Lieber Arthur Lieber (432 Posts)

Since 1969, Arthur Lieber has been teaching and working in non-profit educational organizations. His focus has been on promoting critical, creative, and enjoyable learning for students in informal settings. In the 2010 mid-term elections, he was the Democratic nominee for US Congress from Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District.