How to find Substance in a Primary that lacks it

SAN DIEGO, Ca., August 19, 2015 – It’s that time again. Time to celebrate another presidential election cycle; an event that’s inching closer to becoming a perpetual race as opposed to a process that occurs every four years.

Did you catch the first Republican debate? There were so many candidates they had to split the field into two groups. It reminds me of when they have to add a gate to the Kentucky Derby to accommodate all the horses whose owners can afford the entrance fee.

It’s much the same with respect to these early primary shows. The candidates we get to see are the ones who have enough money to buy the media coverage, which amounts to an entrance fee.

You may have noticed I used the term “show” to describe these spectacles. That’s because using the word “debate” would be a misnomer.

The word “debate” refers to a formal discussion of topics in a public forum, in which opposing arguments are put forth. Conversely, the current format rarely offers differing opinions. Other than the occasional Christie-Paul dust-up, it’s more about personalities than it is policies and more about sound bites than it is solutions.

Of course, this criticism isn’t just aimed at the Republican Party. It would be true of the Democrats as well, assuming they could force their leading candidate to even entertain the idea of speaking to the issues rather than taking selfies with the Kardashians. However, Mrs. Clinton seems to have invoked a vow of silence that would impress a mime.

So, we’re left with a political version of the Celebrity Apprentice… literally. The only difference is that

Donald Trump only gets to fire the moderators.

So, how can we get something of substance from this charade? Here are two suggestions.

First: Dismiss candidates who announce they’re going to release plans about any given issue sometime in the future because they’re just buying time.

Here’s a news flash for those candidates. The presidential election will be held on November 8, 2016, and the date won’t change. No one forced you to enter the race this early, and if you don’t already have your plans in place, why did you throw your hat into the ring?

This is particularly appalling in the case of candidates who have previously run for president. They have no excuse not to be totally prepared. Those who ran in 2012 have had four years to refine their positions, and a certain candidate comes to mind who ran in 2008 and has had eight years to crystallize hers.

Secondly: The Oath of Office is as follows: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my abilities, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

I’d suggest dismissing candidates who announce that they’ll repeal any law during their first day in office. While executive orders may be fair game, Article II of the Constitution does not give the president the authority to repeal acts of Congress. Therefore, candidates who claim they’ll repeal a law passed by the Legislative Branch are either intentionally misrepresenting the truth to emotionally appeal to low-information voters, or they fundamentally do not understand the Constitution that the Oath of Office requires them to “preserve, protect and defend.”

These two simple rules will narrow the field quickly on both sides of the aisle. Concentrate your time on vetting the legitimate candidates… and then, have the courage to cast an informed vote.

Here are some questions to consider:

What is the value of the current structure of presidential debates? Do they provide sufficient content with which to differentiate the candidates or serve more to emphasize form over substance?

Do the candidates state-specific solutions or generic positions? How does this impact your ability to make an informed decision as to which candidate to support?

Should candidates be thoroughly prepared before they choose to enter a race, or is it okay to form opinions as they move forward? Do you feel that you adequately understand the thought process each candidate might use to analyze problems and develop solutions?

Have you ever asked a candidate to recite the Oath of Office? Since this is the foundation of an elected official’s responsibility, shouldn’t candidates be familiar with their respective oaths? If you do not hold elected officials accountable for honoring their Oaths, for what can you hold them accountable?


T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years. He also has served as the Principal Political Analyst and host of Deconstructed for the Independent Voter News (IVN).


This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, Deconstructed, in the Independent Voter News (IVN) after airing on The Daily Ledger on One America News on August 13, 2015.