The cancellation of The Des Moines Register’s
Dec. 19 debate of Republican presidential candidates
wasn’t done to “streamline what had become a
crowded debate calendar in Iowa,” as the newspaper’s
political editor, Carol Hunter, ingenuously
wrote last week.
It was cancelled because the candidates — or
at least most of them — decided not to show
up, folks who usually know what they’re talking
about told Skinny.
Part of the reason is because some of those
very conservative people, and their handlers
and supporters, don’t particularly care for
the Register, we’re told. Part is in fact because
there are other debates scheduled. And part
is because the Register and then-editor Carolyn
Washburn made a mess out of the Republican debate
four years ago.
“Jesus, she was awful, just terrible,” a Washington
political reporter vented to Skinny four years
ago. And as Craig Robinson notes in The Iowa
Republican this week, Washington commentator
(and psychiatrist) Charles Krauthammer called
that debate “crushingly dull.” “That was not
just the worst debate of 2007, that was the
worst debate in western history, and that includes
the ancient Greeks,” he said at the time. The
Iowa Independent called it “a train wreck,”
and The Wall Street Journal called it “infamous.”
That wasn’t a compliment. Washburn, who has
since moved on to edit the Cincinnati Enquirer,
was lampooned and lambasted.
And she helped wreck things for her successor,
Rick Green, a guy who likes and understands
politics, and for Iowa Public Television and
the PBS Newshour, who were to be co-sponsors.
PBS’s Judy Woodruff, a longtime and long-respected
political reporter and analyst (sort of the
anti-Washburn), was to moderate, with Green
handling the open and the close and being deeply
involved in the content. This will be only the
second time the Register hasn’t run a debate
since 1980, when then-executive-editor Jim Gannon,
an old Washington hand, launched the idea and
moderated with skill. There were no Register
debates in 1992 because the Republicans had
an incumbent president and one of the Democratic
candidates was Iowa’s Tom Harkin, which unbalanced
the Iowa field.
Now, the Register will join as a co-sponsor
(with, among others, the Republican Party that
screwed the newspaper) of the ABC debate scheduled
for Dec. 10, but it clearly will be a junior
partner. It seems to boil down to this line
from Carol Hunter’s press-release-style story:
“Some of the debate questions will be provided
by the Register’s political reporting staff.”
Matt Strawn, the state’s GOP chairman, called
the decision a “win-win agreement” for candidates
and caucus-goers. But for the Register, it’s
lose-lose. They lose a longtime showcase event,
and they end up teamed with a political party
and with WOI-TV, the ABC affiliate whose news
shows apparently are watched only by some sports
junkies and people too lazy to change the channel
after “Dancing With the Stars.” Iowa Public
Television and the Register, meantime, still
plan to collaborate on some caucus specials;
they’ll probably make an announcement about
those this week. …
Too bad Cityview’s political reporting staff
wasn’t asked to provide a question or two for
that Family Leader Forum on Saturday. It was
like a revival meeting, with the six candidates
— Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman chose to be elsewhere
— coming forth to confess and ask forgiveness.
Frank Luntz, playing the role of Billy Graham
or Billy Sunday or Burt Lancaster or some such,
all but laid hands on the sinners. But as they
confessed haltingly to minor flaws — no one
used the word “covet” — we kept hoping Luntz
“All of you are good Christians who believe
in God and the Ten Commandments. Please tell
us which ones you have broken in your life.”
You go first. No, you. ...
As long as we’re helpfully providing questions
for moderators, here are a few that Diane Sawyer
and George Stephanopolous might consider asking
at the Dec. 10 debate:
• The latest platform of the Iowa Republican
Party says that “creationism should be included
with all science instruction along with the
Darwinian theory.” Do you believe that, and
do you believe in Creationism?
• The platform says medical care “is a privilege
and not a right.” Do you agree?
• The platform opposes all agricultural subsidies
and says they should be phased out. As you stand
here in Iowa, do you think that’s a good idea?
• The platform calls for the repeal of minimum-wage
laws. Do you agree?
• The platform calls for the repeal of no-fault
divorce laws. Do you have an opinion, Mr. Gingrich?
• The platform calls for repeal of the corporate
income tax, the estate tax, and the gift tax
and the abolition of the IRS. Discuss.
• The platform calls for eliminating — besides
the IRS — OSHA, the Federal Reserve, the National
Endowment for the Arts, and the departments
of Agriculture, Education and, oops, Energy.
• The platform finds no problem if a person
with a permit to carry a concealed gun carries
a gun into a school — any school or any classroom,
from kindergarten to college. Is that a good
• The platform would eliminate Medicare, Medicaid
and Social Security. Do you agree?
• And finally, the platform states: “We support
the definition of manure as a natural fertilizer.”
Do you have position papers on that? CV