Fox News analyst Brit Hume spoke for many Americans last night when he predicted that the Hofstra University smackdown between President Obama and Mitt Romney would be the last presidential debate to use the town hall format. Let’s hope he’s right. Though some observers, like George Will, thought it was the best debate ever because it was a “good fight” that elicited a lot of discussion of the issues, the spectacle of the two candidates circling each other like a pair of animals in a fighting pit did little to enhance either’s credibility. It also led to a series of nasty and often confusing exchanges that didn’t do much for either man’s image or shed much light on the issues.
The format, which is an attempt to inject the voices of ordinary voters into the process, was, as it always is, something of a fake. Most of the supposedly undecided voters rounded up by the Gallup organization didn’t sound all that undecided. Even worse, the town hall format gives even more power to the moderator to not only choose the questions but to intervene in a contest that is, by its nature, more likely to veer out of control than a normal podium debate. That’s exactly what happened, as CNN’s Candy Crowley tilted the playing field in the president’s direction not only by backing up Obama on the Libya incident, as Alana noted earlier, but also by choosing more questions that were geared to favor the Democrat. If that doesn’t motivate Republican debate negotiators in 2016 to refuse to go along with another one of these circuses, then they won’t be doing their jobs.