Political Debates Need Fouls And Fines

Patrick McCorkle
3 min readDec 7, 2023

The four Republican presidential candidates who debated tonight have a limited path to secure their party’s nomination.

According to political website 538, former president Donald Trump averages 59.6% support among voters without debating once.

His debating challengers are as follows:

Ron DeSantis: 12.7%

Nikki Haley: 10.6%

Vivek Ramaswamy: 4.9%

Chris Christie: 2.1%

Trump is dominating the field. Even if you added the totals of the challengers together, he’d have double their support.

If these Republicans are serious about denying Trump the nomination, they should coalesce around the frontrunner from the Iowa caucus or New Hampshire primary. That way, they will still debate multiple times, which is very important, while still giving themselves a fighting chance to reclaim their party from the Trump wing.

If we think back to the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were the most successful challengers to Trump. If one had dropped out and endorsed the other, it’s possible Trump never would’ve won the nomination and been elected president.

Trump divided and conquered. Will he do so again?

On another note, as I watched tonight’s debate, with the usual interruptions, ignoring time limits and personal attacks, I thought of a way to improve political debates and make politicians more accountable in them, in addition to the ideas I’ve had before.

In the National Basketball Association (NBA), players get six personal fouls or two technical fouls before they foul out of a game- they cannot return. Why not institute a similar system for political debates?

In my view, politicians would accrue “fouls” by interrupting another candidate, talking past their allotted time, and issuing personal attacks. The first two are much easier to define. Either you do or you don’t. However, each campaign would have to agree as to what constitutes a personal attack.

Much of the potential to attack a rival goes away if candidates are encouraged and expected to argue why you should vote for them, rather than against someone else. In this system, Candidates would avoid naming opponents unless to highlight something they have done or promised to do. Even then, they would have to careful with their phrasing. For instance, “Candidate A’s tax plan doesn’t go far enough because….” or “Candidate B was not truthful in their response….” This kind of statement and argumentation sticks to the issue or issues without making it personal.

I’m leaning between 5–10 fouls to allow before fouling out. Politics is a heated event, and we have to let people be human and commit mistakes. Perhaps the first couple of instances are forgiven, but after that fouls start accruing.

In my October 2020 article “Make Presidential Debates Great Again,” I proposed an escalating scale of fines for interruptions and going over time to be donated to the affected campaign to run an ad in a battleground state or to be donated to the debate commission itself. Naturally, the same would apply to personal attacks.

The foul and fine system would work together, creating a double incentive for politicians to behave themselves. They don’t want to financially help their opponents. They do want the maximum amount of screen time to connect with voters. To accomplish these things, they’d have to follow some rules.

In day to day life, there are many rules governing our interactions, whether we are ordering something at a restaurant, talking to others in public or interviewing for a job.

It seems to me that there are too few rules for political debates.

It’s time we institute some more.

Agree?

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Patrick McCorkle

I am a young professional with keen interests in politics, history, foreign languages and the arts.