Following blistering criticism of Matt Lauer's interviews of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump during the recent Commander-in-Chief forum, and after Trump has slammed debate moderators like Megyn Kelly, Trump is now calling for removing the moderator at the upcoming presidential debate. While this may seem to like a non-starter, Trump is absolutely right. The debate format needs to be radically revamped and the first change should be dumping the moderators.
The criticism of Lauer and Kelly shows the assumed role of moderators and panelists is not to ask tough questions or to hold candidates feet to the fire but instead to serve as the easy excuse for a poor performance. Much as with sore losers in sports, a stumbling debate performance is somehow blamed on the ref.
Every election sees post-debate spin focused on whether the moderators were fair – witness how CNN's Candy Crowley was blasted in 2012 for correcting Mitt Romney's assertions about when President Obama called the attack on the diplomatic compound in Libya an "act of terror."
It's not like moderated debates have a long and glorious history. In fact, no-moderator debates are the traditional model. Consider the debates that set the standard for American politics – the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates for the Illinois Senate seat. The two candidates were on stage alone, each presenting their best arguments without any potential or perceived bailout from a journalist.
We can't really go back to the Lincoln-Douglas format, which provided for one candidate speaking for an hour, the other getting a 90 minute reply, and the first candidate then delivering a half-hour rebuttal. Thanks to our modern attention span, we can't handle much more than five minutes of one candidate who we disagree with talking, so the format would need an overhaul.
But we could shuttle back and forth between the candidates, allowing for an exciting and potentially illuminating volley. The debate can have set topics, with each candidate receiving a set amount of time for each question. The other candidate would then respond. The debate would continue like this for two hours.