Columnist: Six ways the GOP candidates learned from the Democratic debate

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 31, 2015

By John A. Tures

Contributing columnist

After an impressive Democratic party debate earlier this month, Republicans realized their earlier performances looked worse, by contrast. So they took several steps during their third debate to emulate the Democratic candidates, even if they claimed to despise them.

Lesson #1: Republicans realized that “more is not better” when it comes to debate length.

They could have forced a shorter time format for the first two debates, and a more reasonable setup, but chose not to. As a result, the debates were a real grind. After the more succinct Democratic debate, Republicans suddenly demanded a similar setup, learning from their opponents.

Lesson #2 Republicans (generally) didn’t attack each other like petulant children.

The second GOP debate, back in September, was an attack-fest from the opening bell, when Donald Trump went after Sen. Rand Paul in his opening statements. With the exception of Gov. John Kasich’s attack on rival tax plans and former Gov. Jeb Bush vs. Sen. Marco Rubio’s battle over the latter’s missed votes, the candidates were more polite to each other.

Lesson #3: Republicans didn’t fall for moderator tricks in stirring up the candidates against each other.

Instead, the candidates often turned on the CNBC moderators. Sen. Ted Cruz was primarily effective here, while Dr. Ben Carson let audience boos do the job so he could return to his soft-spoken demeanor. Carly Fiorina and Donald Trump also handled some pretty tough questions from moderators pretty effectively.

Lesson #4: Republicans tried to pivot to issues of greater concern to the American people.

Republicans often steamrolled their way to mentioning issues, websites and general outlines of plans. In some cases, the format kept the candidates from providing enough detail when they did, so we were often left with a rushed performance, akin to a high school debate. They could still learn from Democrats today, or Republicans of old, in offering shorter, simpler answers for the audience to digest.

Lesson #5: Republicans did a better job of sticking to the issues.

They kept it from becoming too personal, and mentioned the issues more. Gov. Chris Christie again did the best, thundering on about fantasy football as an issue, instead of policies to deal with ISIS.

Lesson #6: Republicans avoided attacking the American people.

Republicans kept attacks to the media and Hillary Clinton, and other Democrats, instead of demonizing gays, women, Hispanics, etc. In other words, the GOP candidates generally refrained from beating up on one demographic to please another. Dr. Carson even found a way to provide some verbal support for homosexuals.

There still was room for improvement. There wasn’t much discussion of foreign affairs, education, anti-crime legislation, etc.

And all of the debates could have used more questions from average Americans of all ages and backgrounds. Because the concerns of the average Americans are different from those of television moderators, more interested in boosting ratings than solving problems. One yearns for the town hall debates which seem to have lessened in their presence, especially during the primary season.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College. He may be reached at