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Viewers are understandably suffering from debate fatigue. Wednesday’s debate in Mesa, Ariz. is, after all, the 26th debate since they started last May. Yes, it’s been that long. The newest debate will probably offer no relief.
All along, one thing has been glaringly absent from almost every single one of these debates: Anything that matters. Real problems, like the economy, housing, unemployment, healthcare and international relations have taken a backseat to personal attacks, and there looks to be no stopping that for Wednesday’s debate.
While Arizona's Feb. 28 primary will likely be a referendum on immigration, housing and the economy, the debate will likely be a surface level dance around the issues, just like the previous 25.
Because it is in Arizona, tonight’s debate will most likely devolve into a petty battle over who hates illegal immigration the most, and who wants to build the biggest fence or send out unmanned drones to keep track of those pesky border crossers. After all, anyone who says differently is likely to be roasted on a spit (remember Rick Perry’s comment about not having a “heart”?).
And while illegal immigration is undoubtedly a huge issue in Arizona, so is housing. The state saw some of the worst effects of the housing crisis, with more than 250,000 homes lost in foreclosure and half of homeowners remaining underwater on their mortgages. Home prices in Phoenix, for instance, are at 1999 levels, and fewer than 7,000 homes were built last year in the area compared to an annual average of 35,000, or a record of 64,000 in 2006.
Housing is the issue most tossed to the side thus far. None of the candidates have discussed housing on a deep level, all of them simply want to let it ride itself out and believe nothing else needs to be said (though Santorum seems to be negating his own voting record on this issue).
No candidate, fearing actual debate on housing policy, will bring up the housing market that currently plagues Arizona. The only debate that came close to policy talk was the debate hosted by the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute on CNN. While the policy experts who knew the topics backward and forward asked targeted questions, the candidates fired back with a shotgun.
Gingrich answered what he wanted to answer, telling moderators what they should have asked, Romney danced away from them only as he can do, Ron Paul answered every question so broadly he never actually answered anything, and at that point Santorum didn’t matter enough to focus on.
While that debate stood a thread of a chance, John King will moderate this debate. Given the amount of coverage CNN is giving personal issues and religious affiliation, it’s doubtful those will be absent from this debate. And even if they are the minority, it is likely they will be blown up by the follow up commentary and Thursday morning talk shows to be the biggest topics of the night.
Even if I give King the benefit of the doubt and predict he will only ask policy questions — regardless of how unlikely that is — what are the chances the candidates will be prepared for that? After all, 25 debates later none of them have had real policy issues tossed in their face. Up until now, debates have devolved into snide attacks on personal issues and picky critiques on the word choice of the candidates.
So, prove me wrong, John. Let’s have a hard-hitting, fact-finding debate. After all, isn’t CNN’s motto “The Most Trusted Name in News?”