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Botching the Debates

How Biden and Obama blew it.

Nov 5, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 08 • By FRED BARNES
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Debates with a panel of questioners are long gone. They turned debates into press conferences that brought out the least in the candidates. Scoring points and dispensing one-liners were usually the best a candidate could do.

Town hall debates may be the next to go. They began in 1992, when President George H. W. Bush preferred that format. It didn’t serve him well. He was caught on camera looking at his watch as if he wished the debate were over.

What’s kept the town hall concept alive is the notion that the public is partial to the format. But the Commission on Presidential Debates, after the fiasco with Candy Crowley, isn’t partial. It plans to research the matter. It’s a good bet the commission will jettison town hall debates in favor of four single-moderator, let-the candidates-go-at-it debates in 2016.

And split screens will continue. They were used sparingly before 2012. In 2000, Al Gore’s sighs at George W. Bush’s remarks were audible, but Gore was not shown on screen.

Obama, by the way, was forewarned about the split screen. He saw the Biden-Ryan debate. Yet in the third debate, while Romney talked, he often appeared impatient and irritated. Romney, with a quarter-smile on his face, looked on intently as Obama spoke. His expression didn’t change. He won the battle of the split screens, and maybe the election as well.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.

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