Editorial: Hey, candidates, debate the issues, not the format

SHARE Editorial: Hey, candidates, debate the issues, not the format
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Jeb Bush, second from left, is flanked by Mike Huckabee, left, Marco Rubio, center, Donald Trump, second from right, and Ben Carson during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado, Oct. 28 in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

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Artfully dodging a tough question has always been a popular tactic among politicians.

But recently, candidates running for the Republican presidential nomination have been taking that to a new level by suggesting it’s unfair for anyone to even ask the tough questions in the first place.

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They complained that CNBC’s moderators at the debate last week in Colorado asked “gotcha” questions and were more determined to undercut the candidates than educate voters. Next, the GOP said it would suspend the next debate hosted by NBC News, CNBC’s sister network, and Telemundo. On Sunday night, advisers from at least 11 of the campaigns met in Washington to discuss changes in debate rules.

Can we ask: What were they thinking?

Or is that an unfair, loaded question?

By Monday night, some candidates were backing off, saying they wouldn’t sign a joint letter of complaint to the networks. That was a wise move. The existing debate schedule and formats are the result of thorough negotiations with the Republican National Committee. Getting into a prolonged debate about the debates at this point would not be productive. And a “gotcha” question is not simply one a candidate would prefer not to answer.

The reality is that any debate format is going to be unwieldy as long as so many candidates — 15, at last counting — remain in the race. Both parties should be thinking about better ways to handle a field of this size in the future to help voters make wise choices.

But for now, the candidates should focus on doing what they should be doing at debates — answering the questions.

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