Presidential nominees focus on policy please

Illustration by Angelo Sanchez

As a merged political science and journalism major, campaigns, debates and government are my niche. I’m a self-proclaimed politics geek, so the most recent Democratic debate was at the top of my watch list.

I almost wish it wasn’t.

Regardless of partisan identities or alliances, it was difficult to call the debate a success. Typically, the purpose of debates among presidential contenders is to clarify the intentions and views of candidates. The nearly three-hour long event left me with more confusion than clarity.

Watching the debate felt more like a crossover between “Scandal” and “Saturday Night Live” than an important step in the election process.

The candidates were sharp and prepared, even proposing their own approaches on the topic of health care. Challenges between the candidates laid out differences between former Vice President Joe Biden’s ideas and those of Senator Kamala Harris, but without much help from the moderator’s end, the debate started to spiral into a verbal spat that was more fitting for a middle school cafeteria than a stage.

Julián Castro, former United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, led the mudslinging with a thinly veiled jab at Biden’s mental sharpness and age.

“You said they would have to buy in. Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago? Are you forgetting already what you said just two minutes ago?” Castro said during the televised debate.

The comment was based on Castro’s own misunderstanding of Biden’s plan for affordable health care and was a low blow.

I understand that the candidates wish to establish themselves ahead of the pack in an environment as competitive as the race for the most esteemed office in the nation. But those steps that place a potential president above the others should be grounded in superior policy ideas and leadership, not age.

Instead of calling out the former vice president for being old, I wish Castro had explained why his health care plan was the better alternative.

Senator Harris also missed the mark throughout the debate when she seemed determined on trolling President Trump’s trade policy rather than establishing herself as a front runner.

“The bottom line is this: Donald Trump in office on trade policy … reminds me of that guy in “The Wizard of Oz,”” Harris said during the televised debate. “You know, when you pull back the curtain, it’s a really small dude.”

It comes as no surprise that a Democratic candidate would not be on the same page as the current Republican president. The audience could’ve been saved the reminder.

Focus on policy, please.

That thought was on loop in my mind as the candidates squabbled on stage.

I think it is safe to assume that the American people want to see who best fits their beliefs and wants for the country, rather than who can win in a roast session. Voters like to be informed on issues that matter: immigration, the economy, trade policy, gun control and more.

Save the personality contest for “The Bachelor.” This is America’s future we’re talking about, and voters need to be informed. The primary is a contest of ideas, and the Sept. 19 debate did very little to reflect that concept.

Perhaps it was the structure of the debates that led the candidates astray, or maybe it was rollover influence from the hot mess that was the 2016 presidential debate.

Maybe a different structure would allow the primary debates to inform, rather than confuse the audience. Or maybe the politicians just need to get back to politics and stay away from the Hollywood theatrics.