Why the GOP Debates Seem More Like A Cartoon Showdown Than Civil Discourse

With the Presidential debates becoming a cartoonish spectacle of political bluster and vitriol, one political expert weighs in on what to think of all these politicians behaving badly.  

By Rhonda FanningFebruary 26, 2016 2:57 pm

The eyes of the world were upon Texas last night in that Houston saloon fight billed as the final GOP debate before the Texas primary, along with ten other states who hold theirs on Super Tuesday.

Who won, you ask?

Perhaps it was screenwriter Etan Cohen who, with Mike Judge, co-created the sci-fi cult classic satire Idiocracy: the story of an everyday man who wakes up in a futuristic America only to discover that everyone around him – lawmakers, officials, everyone really – is an idiot, even the President, who fires his machine gun in the Senate chamber to get fist-fighting lawmakers to pay attention to him.

Cohen tweeted during the debate last night “I never expected Idiocracy to become a documentary,” followed by “I thought the worst thing that would come true was everyone wearing crocs.”

By the time early voting ends tonight at 7 across the state, several Texas turnout records are expected to have been broken. Election officials tell us that if you’re in line by 7, you’ll get to cast your ballot, too.

The Houston debate occupied the front pages of almost every major newspaper in the nation, fodder for commentary on the BBC. But everyone’s talking more than just the contest – they’re talking what’s become an almost cartoonish spectacle.

There’s the question of whether these debates are, in fact, still debates in any way that makes sense for a country that prides itself as a model democracy.

Bryan Gervais, assistant professor of political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio, studies political incivility – or politicians behaving badly.

Gervais says most of the debates on the GOP side have been uncivil, even cartoonish. “We haven’t seen debates, if you want to call them that, like this before,” he says. “I don’t think substance is the goal here.”

He says this kind of debate is the result of two distinct trends: partisan polarization, who want to see their opponents attacked, and the desire for high ratings from networks, which come from conflict rather than staid discussion.

“They want the fireworks,” Gervais says. “They want the vitriol.”

Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.