Candidates, mostly Republicans, skip debates, bar press during midterm campaigns
WASHINGTON — Two months into the 2022 election season, the majority of Republican candidates continue to not speak not only to local and national media about their political issues, but also to their own constituents, leaving voters with little information about their politics. . posts.
“If we want to hold our elected officials accountable for their political position(s), we need to know what they are,” said Nicholas Valentino, professor of political science and research at the Center for Political Studies in the University of Michigan.
The relationship between the press and politicians has always been contentious, throughout Republican and Democratic-controlled congressional terms and White House administrations.
The Obama administration, more than any other White House administration, has used the Espionage Act to prosecute whistleblowers who leaked to the press. For example, the government has used this law 11 times to prosecute federal workers who have shared classified information with the press, and the Obama administration alone has used the law seven of those times.
But the refusal to speak to journalists and to prevent them from covering political events that would inform voters of their political positions has worsened over the years, and it shows up in local elections.
“If you can undermine the credibility of the press, you can also offload the responsibility of speaking to the press, and we’ve seen a dramatic increase in this type of behavior in the United States,” Valentino said.
He said it’s a trend that worries experts who study democratic stability not just in the United States, but around the world.
“One of the main indicators of democratic backsliding is our restriction of information to the free press and our reluctance to speak to the press,” Valentino said.
Debates are also irrelevant
It’s not just the media that Republican candidates refuse to talk to, it’s their own constituents. In Iowa, Republicans such as Governor Kim Reynolds, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, and U.S. Representatives Randy Feenstra, Ashley Hinson, and Mariannette Miller-Meeks ignored an Iowa State Fair tradition — the political soapbox of the Des Moines registry where candidates speak to the public about where they stand on the issues. The only Republicans who spoke were those challenging the Democratic incumbents.
A majority of Republican candidates also refuse to debate their Democratic opponents. Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine declined to debate Republican challengers in the primary and has now said he will not debate his Democratic challenger, former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.
In Nebraska, GOP gubernatorial candidate Jim Pillen is also refusing to debate his Democratic challenger, state Sen. Carol Blood. If elected, Pillen would become the first Nebraska governor since at least the 1970s to be elected without facing his opponents on a debate stage. (Nebraska’s U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, on the other hand, will take part in two debates and recently tweeted, “I love debates.”)
And in the closely watched U.S. Senate race from Georgia, Republican nominee Herschel Walker has yet to hold a public debate with Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, who became Georgia’s first black U.S. senator after a January special election. Last year. Walker challenged Warnock in several debates, which Warnock accepted, but Walker withdrew from those debates.
Walker accepted an Oct. 14 debate hosted by Nexstar Media Group. Warnock did not agree to the debate and declined to answer the question posed by a reporter from the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.
Warnock’s campaign responded to the States Newsroom, but did not respond if he would attend the Oct. 14 debate.
“How can we expect Herschel Walker to defend Georgians in the Senate if he refuses to debate on stage?” Warnock wrote on Twitter last Tuesday.
Until recently, Walker also frequently imposed restrictions on the local press, opting instead to publish statements in conservative outlets like Fox News.
Not all Republican candidates decline debate invitations. For example, Republican Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who is running for governor, has agreed to debate Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly. Schmidt, however, waited three months after announcing his running mate before holding his first press conference.
And a few Democratic candidates have come under fire for turning down invites.
In Pennsylvania, Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman largely stayed away from interviews and accepted debate invites for weeks after suffering a stroke in May. His campaign largely ran on memes, attacking his GOP U.S. Senate nominee, Mehmet Oz, for being a resident of New Jersey.
Oz agreed to attend what would be the first televised debate of the race, hosted by KDKA-TV of Pittsburgh, on September 6.
And in Maryland, Democratic nominee Wes Moore and Republican nominee Dan Cox were invited to a governors’ forum Sept. 27 by the Morgan State University student-run news publication. Cox agreed, but Moore refused, with his spokesperson saying Moore didn’t want to “elevate the dangerous opinions” of his challenger.
The rise of partisan voting
When political candidates refuse to take the debate stage to defend or explain their political position, it is difficult for voters to be informed of what their representatives are doing, Valentino said.
“One of the major discoveries in political psychology over the last 50 or 60 years is that it’s actually very rare and difficult for constituencies to hold their elected officials to account,” he said. he declares.
And when voters don’t have a clear idea of a candidate’s political values, their votes become more partisan, said Daniel Hopkins, professor of political science in the Department of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Voters, when they go to the polls, have a lot of information about national politics and very little information about national and local politics,” he said. “There have been a whole series of very compelling studies over the past few years showing that when local newspapers go out of business, then voters tend to vote in a more partisan way.”
Voting based solely on party affiliation also strays from American democratic standards, Hopkins added.
“The reason we’re asking voters to vote for all of these specific candidates, rather than just voting for one party, is because of the idea that the candidate matters, that candidates can take different positions, that these individuals are not just functionaries of their party,” he said. “And so if voters are increasingly toeing the party line, that poses a real tension with the way we run our elections, which asks people to develop opinions about so many different political actors.”
And refusing to allow the press to participate in political rallies also makes it difficult to inform voters, Hopkins added.
“They have less information, and so they’re going to stick to their partisanship,” Hopkins said.
Attacks on the press as a strategy
In recent years, Hopkins said polarization has grown and some Republican candidates have “let go of the idea that the news media can be a neutral outlet.”
He pointed to former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose frequent attacks on the media helped him build a right-wing following ahead of the 2012 presidential primaries. He lost the Republican presidential primary, but the norm of attacking the press as a biased institution was quickly followed as a tactic by former Republican President Donald Trump.
The Trump administration has also frequently attacked the media, banned them from press briefings and threatened to strip them of their White House press credentials. And in 2017, Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs was physically assaulted by US Montana Republican House candidate Greg Gianforte while asking him a question about health care.
Gianforte won the special election and is currently governor of Montana.
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The Republican National Committee this year voted unanimously to withdraw from the Commission on Presidential Debates before the 2024 presidential election, arguing that it would not be a fair debate. The commission is a nonpartisan organization that has sponsored the President’s and Vice President’s Debates since the 1980s and has Republican and Democratic members.
“The Commission on Presidential Debates is biased and has refused to enact simple, common-sense reforms to help ensure fair debates, including holding debates before voting begins and selecting moderators who have never worked for candidates on the debate stage,” RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said. A declaration.
And in Florida, GOP lawmakers have allowed only conservative media to attend the Sunshine Summit, an event where the state’s Republicans discuss their political agendas. Governor’s press secretary Ron DeSantis taunted non-conservative media on Twitter who were barred from the event.
“It has come to my attention that some liberal media activists are angry that they are not allowed to #SunshineSummit this weekend,” she wrote. “My message to them is to try and cry about it. So go kickboxing and have a margarita. And write the same hit track you were going to write anyway.
Alaska’s Republican candidate Sarah Palin also avoided speaking to the press during the special election to complete the term of the state’s only congressman, Rep. Don Young, who died in March.
However, Palin responded to an Alaskan Beacon survey on her various political positions such as abortion (she does not believe in the codification of Roe. v. Wade), the validity of the 2020 presidential election (she believes former President Donald Trump won the election) and the legalization of marijuana (she thinks it should be legal), among other issues.
She lost to Democratic candidate Mary Peltola after the ranking pick votes were announced Wednesday night. Peltola will become the first woman to represent Alaska in the United States House of Representatives and the first Alaska Native to serve in Congress.
But shutting down the press isn’t the only concern a democratic country regresses, Valentino said. The passing of strict election laws – a trend among state-controlled Republican legislatures since the 2020 presidential election – and the denial of valid elections are some of the most glaring trends in the erosion of democracy. .
Many 2020 election deniers have been nominated as GOP gubernatorial candidates in four critical swing states — Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Valentino said that if election deniers started calling off the election, “it would ironically be one of the first major indications of voter fraud on behalf of the party that has been accusing the other side of voter fraud for years now.”
“That, in some ways, most academics would say, is far more serious than attacks on the press, because it would mean you were actually taking votes that had been cast and throwing them away,” he said. declared.