The Hilarious Debate Rules Protecting the Candidates from Real People

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 15 2012 3:45 PM

The Hilarious Debate Rules Protecting the Candidates from Real People

Mark Halperin snags the memorandum of understanding that governs the presidential debates, and the humor comes when we learn how the campaigns governed the town hall format. "In managing the two-minute comment periods," write the rulemakers, "the moderator will not rephrase the question or open a new topic." The questioners will not engage in dialogues with the candidates. "The audience members shall not ask follow-up questions or otherwise participate in the extended discussion, and the audience member's microphone shall be turned off after he or she completes asking the questions."

Pretty clear what the campaigns were trying to do here, isn't it? They were trying to forestall a "moment" for either candidate, like the Bill Clinton response to the confused woman who asked how "the national debt has affected you personally." Clinton won that exchange because Ross Perot and George W. Bush answered the question, while he walked towards the woman and kept following up, asking her how she'd been hurt.

It worked for the most charismatic national candidate of the last few generations. But boy, neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney is particularly adept at this kind of flim-flam. Neither is unpersonable, but neither one could risk bumbling into an awkward moment with a Real American, or watching helplessly as the other candidate actually scored. As gaffe-preventing wimpery goes, it should be pretty effective.


There's also this: "The candidates shall not address each other with proposed pledges." That's not a bad rule!

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics



The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

An Iranian Woman Was Sentenced to Death for Killing Her Alleged Rapist. Can Activists Save Her?

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Homeland Is Good Again! For Now.


Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.


How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

The U.S. Has a New Problem in Syria: The Moderate Rebels Feel Like We’ve Betrayed Them

We Need to Talk: A Terrible Name for a Good Sports Show by and About Women

Trending News Channel
Oct. 1 2014 1:25 PM Japanese Cheerleader Robots Balance and Roll Around on Balls
  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 1 2014 12:20 PM Don’t Expect Hong Kong’s Protests to Spread to the Mainland
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
The Eye
Oct. 1 2014 1:04 PM An Architectural Crusade Against the Tyranny of Straight Lines
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 2:08 PM We Need to Talk: Terrible Name, Good Show
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 3:02 PM The Best Show of the Summer Is Getting a Second Season
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 3:01 PM Netizen Report: Hong Kong Protests Trigger Surveillance and Social Media Censorship
  Health & Science
Oct. 1 2014 2:36 PM Climate Science Is Settled Enough The Wall Street Journal’s fresh face of climate inaction.
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.