Better luck next time. While pundits debate the political fall-out of the Fox News Republican debate last week, the 25 million Americans who tuned into the debate have probably already concluded they were short-changed.
During the entire two hour prime-time event, the Fox debate moderators didn’t ask a single question about jobs or the economy. Its the clearest sign that politics has disconnected from the daily lives of voters.
Reading through a transcript of the debate, the Fox moderators exhibited all the reasons voters are increasingly turned off by politics. Virtually every question asked of the candidates was framed as a negative, unearthing some key factoid from an opposition research document on their record and asking them to address the item.
The very first question of the debate was to retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who was challenged by moderator Megyn Kelly over his political inexperience. Kelly grilled him over questions as to whether or not he knew the major political parties in Israel or the European security arrangements of the Baltic States.
Now: Carson is a rock-star among neurosurgeons, already a pretty elite group of human achievers. He was the first surgeon in history to separate twins conjoined in the head. There are countless humans alive today because of his work, yet his first introduction to the national voting public focused on his alleged inexperience with foreign politicians.
The next questions mined a similar vein, grilling Jeb Bush about questions of political dynasties and the now infamous exchange with Donald Trump over his twitter account.
That these were the first three questions of the entire debate, after the surreal “pledge” question for all candidates, was clearly intentional, hoping to capitalize on the maximum viewership in the early moments of the debate.
Political scientists can deconstruct the rest of the debate and the choices made by the moderators. The most important item to absorb, and pray is never repeated, is the fact that the moderators didn’t ask a single question about the economy.
About two-thirds of the way through the debate, there was a question about jobs and the economy. That question, of course, came from a voter, through Facebook, a partner in the debate.
The question was from Tania Cioloko in Philadelphia:
Please describe one action you would do to make the economic environment more favorable for small businesses and entrepreneurs and anyone dreaming of opening their own business.
Only Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was given an opportunity to address that question. Still, for Americans who worry about the economy and the future of economic growth, it was something at least.
Every poll taken over the last 6 years has show the economy to be the voters’ top concern. In the most recent Gallup survey, 86 percent of Americans said the economy would be extremely or very important in how they decide to cast their vote.
In fairness to Chris Wallace, one of the three Fox moderators, he did mention the word “economy” in questions to three candidates. Those instances, unfortunately, were again in the vein of “gotcha” questions about the candidate’s record; Walker’s job creation in Wisconsin, Bush’s record in Florida and bankruptcy filings in Atlantic City, New Jersey by some Trump companies.
Except for the one question from a viewer, however, the moderators didn’t ask any of the candidates what their economic plans were. There were no questions on tax policy, regulations or government debt. There were no questions on taming the federal budget or how the candidates prioritized spending in a world of perpetual deficits.
The Fox moderators did little to connect the election at hand with the daily challenges and hopes of millions of Americans across the country. The Fox debate occupied its own alternative reality, mining political issues that consume the mandarins in D.C., but say nothing to the American people.
The groundswell of support for candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, as well as a few others like Ben Carson, Ted Cruz or Carly Fiorina, is the result of the public’s growing dissatisfaction and frustration with the political class in the U.S. The Fox debate is currently the most glaring example of how disconnected the two are.
This divide cannot last.