My Reaction to a 1988 Republican Primary Debate

Obviously, I’m wondering if Bush really was the cream of the crop, or if a better alternative was passed over. It’s clear after seeing the 1988 Democratic debates that Dukakis sure as hell wasn’t the best in his respective field, so why should the other party be immune from making a mistake? My opinion going in is that Bush was insanely qualified, but he lacked charisma. Watching his nomination speeches, he was one of the most awkward speakers I’ve seen on the national stage. Bush caved in to what he knew to be a fraud, Reagan’s “voodoo economics” and as I recall his only major policy position was the pledge not to raise taxes…which he famously broke. Also there was the neocon shit with Iraq and shameful inaction in the face of AIDS. Surely they had someone more exciting than that in the wings, right?

Well, in any case, there are five other people on stage. Bob Dole and his own future VP pick Jack Kemp for starters. Plus Pat Robertson, Pete Dupont, and General Haig. I’m not really sure what to expect with this lot. Bob Dole, in my experience, is a respectable man who tends to be a pretty bland orator but has his occasional moments. Where he really shined was the 1980 primary debate I saw. In the general election debates, he was insufferably dull. I found Jack Kemp more enthusiastic but that was one sole VP debate. I don’t know these other guys.

Right away, the moderator lets us know we’re in for another confusing stupid mess of a debate, with no less than 3 different phases, first the mod will ask questions, then they ask each other questions, and then a “guest questioner” is gonna do it… I’m really hoping by next cycle they get it together and just have the moderator ask questions because I’m getting sick of this convoluted quiz show nonsense, especially after watching that last Democratic New Hampshire debate which was a complete waste because of its own goofy, bloated format. It was a cool novelty at first seeing the candidates ask each other questions, but it’s quickly worn out its welcome, and I don’t see the point of a guest questioner at all. Why don’t they just submit their questions to the moderator to ask? Or just moderate the whole debate?

The first question seems incredibly bloated in itself, essentially asking Dole to lay out his entire platform in however many minutes. I mean, that’s the point of the debate, to get that platform over the course of two hours by how they answer specific questions. Now you want him to do it in a flash? It’s a pretty bad question, and Dole’s answer is incredibly broad and vague itself, not that it’s his fault.

And, once the Moderator moves on to the General, we see that, once again, the candidates are not going to be asked the questions uniformly. So as of right now, I’m predicting another largely wasted, frivolous debate. I really don’t see why this was so hard to understand for however many cycles it’s been now and will continue to be going forth. You ask the candidates the same questions so the voters can compare positions and judge who has the best plan. Asking completely different questions with no rebuttals makes that a lot harder to do.

The moderator asks Haig what mistakes he’s seen past presidents make and how that’ll effect his own presidency should he win. Haig’s answer is incredibly relevant today, where he claims the most dangerous thing we might see in a future President is populism. Haig then hilariously declares that the American people are too smart to let a populist lacking clear principles get anywhere near the white house. Oh if he could only see the sad state of affairs today, and the man his own party’s currently supporting! I’m not too impressed by the General’s oration on this first round. He comes off as pretty soft spoken and boring. We’ll see if he picks up later.

I didn’t realize Kemp was the apparent “godfather” of supply side economics. That’s pretty disappointing, because he seemed reasonably moderate and likable from what I recall of the 1996 VP debate. He gives a defense of Reaganomics even after the moderator points out what it’s led to. I might have been sympathetic to him earlier, but now I’m very anti-Kemp if for no other reason than this. I largely dislike Bill Clinton for the same reason, that he didn’t do more to roll back Reaganomics.

Robertson is apparently the token religious nut in this cycle, a trend which would become more and more pronounced up to the present day. He promises he won’t use his religion as a litmus test for filling government positions. (Color me skeptical.)

Bush is asked about his apparent secrecy in his role with Iran-Contra and he sleazily but expertly is able to turn the moment around on the moderator himself. He gets a huge round of applause for it, even. It’s the most exciting moment of the debate thus far, which I’m sure helped Bush look good and go on to win the whole thing. But for what it’s worth I think Bush is lying about his role and motivations in the Iran Contra affair.

Du Pont is asked if his wealthy background makes him unable to relate to the average American. He gives the typical story about his ancestors coming over on the Mayflower or whatever and how hard they worked…the usual song and dance. Then he brags about lowering taxes. (Which just proves he can’t relate to poor Americans if you ask me.) Basically answering the question in annoying “political speech tropes 101” generalities—even ending on the usual “this campaign is about…” cliché.

So…yeah. Round 1 and I dislike all of these people already, sans Dole, and while I’m not a fan I think Bush has the edge. With that in mind, and especially since they’re all being asked different questions so there’s no comparisons to be made, I’m just gonna write down some particular highlights that jumped out at me from this point on.

We immediately move from there to the candidates asking each other questions, and almost like some cruel joke, Haig basically asks Dole the exact same question Dole just answered, only rephrased slightly different. Here, perhaps for the first time, Dole refers to himself in the third person. This would become a running joke on The Simpsons, Family Guy and other shows through the ’90s.

As we go on, we’ve got Du Pont and Robertson blaming teachers and Democrats for poor education standards and jerking themselves off at how “introducing competition” (read: privatization) will solve it. Robertson’s apparent care for education is admirable though, ridiculous as his solutions are.

I do kinda agree with Kemp about the need for an international monetary standard, and how the loss of a Gold standard all over the world has led to our currency being manipulated against. I don’t think Gold is viable anymore, but there have been other alternatives proposed over the years, like the Bancor.

I don’t believe for one second Bush cares about AIDS as he claims. His very own question (to Haig) about the topic betrays his true feelings when he says that losing a kid to AIDS is “a humiliation” for the parents. What a backhanded condolence that is, the rotten bigot. Remember, this is when AIDS was considered strictly a “gay disease.” Haig too, has me groaning with his answer, where he stresses the need for abstinence only education. (Which is a proven failure by the way.) Yeesh.

Dole asks Kemp about AIDS too, and holy shit, (pun intended) any lasting respect I mightve had for Kemp is thrown out the window when he suggests putting the Ten Commandments up on billboards “to teach kids right from wrong” as the solution. He does mention AIDS research too, to be fair, but really? Shoving unconstitutional religious doctrine down everyone’s throats in response to a major public health crisis? Are you serious? Bullshit like that ought to disqualify you as a serious candidate. Period.

Kemp starts referring to HIMSELF in the third person too. WTF is going on here??

The moderator wastes precious time introducing this guest questioner and giving her life story as if it matters. Who cares who she is? If you’re watching this, you want to know about these candidates and their position on the issues. Why the fuck would you bring the proceedings to a complete halt just to arbitrarily throw in a new person to ask questions? This is by far the stupidest gimmick I’ve seen yet in a debate. She then wastes even more time making “witty” banter, thanking the moderator and…ugh, just kill me now. I don’t like how she interjects her own political opinions in after they answer her questions either, especially how she does so and then immediately moves on so they can’t respond. It’s just poor form, and again no one cares who this woman is or her opinion*—if you’re watching this debate, it’s because you want to hear what these candidates have to say, not her. She evens sneaks in a dig at Bush at one point “I’ve even heard of voodoo economics, I can’t remember where.” Ugh. Like, I hate these guys’ ideology too, lady. But you’re there to moderate, which demands a neutral objectivity to be done properly. You’re not supposed to insert yourself, be cheeky and make disparaging remarks. Just this whole thing with her is a complete disaster and I hope to God this never happens again going forward. It doesn’t help that she has an incredibly punchable face, talks very slowly, and interjects stupid “jokes” or quips into the question that waste even more precious time. I skipped through the rest of this segment.

*ASIDE: I’m sure any critics of mine might consider this statement an ironic self-indictment. I’ll counter in advance that if you’re reading this then you chose to come here and you knew exactly what you were gonna get. That is, my personal reaction to the debates and their candidates. I’m not inserting myself and my own opinions unexpectedly into the proceedings themselves. When I moderate a Republican debate and turn it into a self-congratulatory farce like this woman did, that’s the day this barb of mine becomes hypocritical.

The closing statements are pretty much by the numbers stuff. I was confused by Robertson listing off all these supposed great flaws of America though. Shouldn’t that be a pretty strong condemnation of Reagan considering he’s been leading for the last eight years? Pretty funny.

Overall, this is almost certainly the worst, least informative, least organized and least entertaining debate I have yet to see. The 1976 and 1996 general election debates may have been unbearably dull, but at least they were on point. The 2016 GOP primary debates may have been an absolute disaster, but they were at least hilarious. This had no redeeming values. All these ’80s primary debates seem to have gimmicks and weird changes in format since the idea of regular debates was new and the kinks hadn’t been worked out yet. But this one took it way, WAY too far to where it was just unwatchable. Bringing in a whole new moderator for no apparent reason has got to be the most pointless thing you could possibly do. And with a crowded field, and it being the first debate of the cycle, it’s just inexcusable not to give the voters a more thorough picture of their options.

As far as the candidates go, I’d say Dole wins by default for being the least insufferable, but that said I can see why Bush won. He’s got the establishment backing, Reagan’s endorsement and some of Reagan’s charisma seems to have rubbed off on him here. He’s able to take command of the room really well, like telling the moderator off.

I was expecting to like Kemp going in, but learning hes the father of supply side, and that hes way more religious than I expected eroded that away very quickly. I’m honestly forgetting about the rest of these guys even as I type this. At least Gephardt and Babbitt had a quirkiness to their shortcomings, like Gephardt’s almost laughably bad soundbites. These guys are just generic Pre-Ted Cruz religious nut, pre-Trump rich businessman and old washed up General. Surprisingly, the GOP picked the best, most reliable candidate possible in this field.

1 Comment

  1. Cassie,
    Once again I believe you did a good and fair job in analyzing this debate. I liked and agreed with your point about Bush and Dukakis not being the best candidates this country could come up with. But I believe the same could be said about most any US presidential election. Your criticism of the format for the debate also seemed quite valid. Listening to the debate itself it occurred to me that those were simpler times before the subsequent administrations especially Bush, Clinton and Bush Jr, went on to make the US and our problems much worse. I agree with you in saying Kemp was correct in the need for a sound monetary policy. The failure to have that has been the cause of most of our economic policies since the creation of the FED in 1913, Kemps understanding of this would place him in my book above most all presidents that have been in office since then. Pat Robinson seemed to be the most dangerous to our social freedoms while seeming ignorant on economics. My view of Bush watching the debate was clouded by knowing what a bad president he proved to be. I enjoyed seeing this historic debate from back when the world was a simpler place. Once again thanks for putting this together. I feel like reading your recent blog posts has been like a crash course in US political history and political science. Thank you. Great job!

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