Everybody but some of the media wise guys agrees that the fourth Republican presidential debate this week in Milwaukee was better than the MSNBC train wreck that preceded it. The practiced pontificators didn’t like it because it had no fireworks, no memorable gaffes and no memorable sound bites, no throwing of shoes, eggs or lamps and with only one or two boos for questioner or candidate straying toward the unexpected.
The closest thing to a gaffe was Ted Cruz’s vow to abolish five Cabinet departments and when he started to enumerate them could only remember four. But for good measure he abolished the Commerce Department twice. This recalled Rick Perry’s promise to abolish three departments, and he fatally wounded his campaign when he could only remember two of them. The look on Mr. Cruz’s face, when he realized his error, was priceless.
The moderators and the other debaters let the lapse go unremarked. Such lapses are the dread of every public speaker. The moderators, from The Wall Street Journal and Fox Business Network, were much better, content to let the candidates stick to their sound bites and answering the questions tossed to them, giving them an opportunity to talk about their different approaches to problems voters care about (or should care about), and leaving the trivial and irrelevant for another occasion.
This annoys the reporters and pundits who think candidates in these “debates” should be allowed only to defend themselves against nitpickery and meaningless slips of the tongue. Ben Carson made no further mistakes, much to the chagrin of the media critics waiting to suit up for a mission on the Gaffe Patrol. They were left to sharpen questions for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in their debate on Saturday night. The Fox Business News network had decided that the debate should be about the candidates rather than the network talent.
The network talent, Neil Cavuto and Maria Bartiromo, and Gerard Baker, the executive editor of The Wall Street Journal, avoided the mistakes of previous moderators and kept their pledge to keep the evening about the issues that the audience, in the studio and watching at home, should be focused on.