New York Times editorial board member Michelle Cottle admonished Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman and other prominent midterm candidates for shying away from debates in their campaigns.
Cottle claimed in an opinion piece on Monday that political candidates who have been trying to get out of debates are participating in a trend that reflects a “troubling sign of our political times,” and puts “democracy at risk of sliding farther into crisis.”
Her commentary came as part of a piece previewing the upcoming debate between Fetterman and his Republican opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz, which is set to air Tuesday, a debate she described as having “captured the high-stakes, uncertain, migraine-inducing essence of this freaky election cycle.”
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After describing the two candidates and illustrating the unusual character of the Pennsylvania Senate race, which has been marked by Fetterman’s health issues and Oz’s criticism of his “medical travails,” she began her discussion of how hard it was for their debate to come together.
Cottle wrote, “After much back-and-forth between the campaigns, Mr. Fetterman agreed to only a single debate, pushed to this late date on the campaign calendar.” She also noted, “While the particulars of the Pennsylvania race are unusual, the minimalist approach to debating is ascendant,” and spent the rest of her column calling out this new trend.
“For the past decade, the number of debates in competitive races has been on a downward slide, and they appear headed the way of floppy disks and fax machines,” Cottle wrote, adding, “This election season, barring unforeseen developments, the major Senate contenders in Georgia, Arizona, North Carolina and Florida, as in Pennsylvania, will face off only once.”
The author mentioned how the midterm Senate race in Nevada will include zero debates, adding, “Likewise, the Republican and Democratic candidates in Missouri have yet to agree on conditions for appearing together.”
Cottle stated, “This trend is not limited to the Senate. Several candidates for governor have so far opted to shun debates.” She even noted how the GOP “voted to keep its candidates out of events hosted by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates unless it overhauls its rules for how the debates are conducted.”
She summed up this trend, saying, “This is a not-so-great development for a democracy already under strain.”
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Cottle blamed it on America’s burgeoning partisan bubbles, writing, “Once upon a time, candidates felt obligated to participate in debates. But as campaigning increasingly take place inside partisan bubbles, and the ways to directly communicate with voters proliferate, the contenders have become less inclined to brave this arena.”
She added, “Increasingly, campaigns are deciding these showdowns simply aren’t worth the work or the risk involved.”
However, the author blasted these excuses, writing, “Debates aren’t supposed to be conducted for the electoral advantage of the candidates. They are meant to benefit the voting public. Debates require political opponents to engage face-to-face. They give voters an opportunity to watch the candidates define and defend their priorities and visions beyond the length of a tweet or an Instagram post.”
Cottle concluded her, piece, claiming, “But the loss of this ritual is another troubling sign of our political times, and of a democracy at risk of sliding farther into crisis as its underpinnings are being steadily eroded.”