Last night, former Florida governor Charlie Crist had a debate with current governor, Republican Rick Scott. They talked about jobs, education, health care and the environment, and more. And the topic that led the public's interest was about... a fan.
Not "fan" as in an admirer of one of the candidates. But, well, y'know, one of those little electric devices that spins blades and cools you off. A fan.
It seems that Governor Scott and his team felt that having a fan under the podium was against debate rules, and therefore as long as there was one at the bottom of Charlie Crist's, then Mr. Scott would not debate.
For almost six minutes, he would not debate.
There was an empty stage. The audience was there. The panel of moderators were there. It's just that there was nobody on stage.
Eventually, Charlie Crist finally showed up. Feeling, no doubt, that you can carry stupidity only so far. But Govern Rick Scott (R-FL) wouldn't debate because there was a fan.
No, really. As the comedienne Anna Russell famously said in her lecture on The Ring Cycle -- I'm not making this up, you know.
Now, to be clear, it may have been against debate rules. Governor Scott believed that was the case. And the moderators made note that it was their understanding that it was the case. Mr. Crist's group said that they're believe was that a fan was allowed. But let's say for the sake of argument that, in fact, a fan was not allowed.
This was still a really, really stupid decision on the part of Rick Scott. He was getting incredibly bad advice from his campaign team.
Even if they were right. Even if they decided to make a case of how here was an example of Charlie Crist breaking the rules he had agreed to, which shows you just can't trust o'l Charlie Crist -- this was still an incredibly bad and monumentally decision. Because...well, as the Miami Herald put it --
"'Asked what was trending early into the debate, Naples Daily News executive editor Manny Garcia reported the obvious:
“'Well, the fan.'”
People understand being flexible. People understand it being hot (especially there in Florida). People understand with issues of unemployment and the economy and news stories of the Ebola virus and threats of terrorism, and fighting in Iraq and Syria what some of the more important issues facing the country are. And "He has a fan under his podium, and it's against the rules" is not one of them.
And the thing is, it's not unheard of that debate rules can sometimes get flexible and adjusted at the last minute. Sometimes the public even sees it as a good thing when candidates show they grasp the concept of give-and-take, especially when running for governor. SInce inflexibility on something minor and human can portend problems.
But that's not the worst thing. You see, this is a no-win situation. If you decide to make a case out of it, pointing out how your opponent broke the rules, you only serve to keep bringing it up over and over again, and look monumentally petty. You're running for governor, for goodness sake, voters are concerned about how you are going to deal with issues that seriously impact your life, not hear you whine about how "He broke the rules and has a fan." Or...you realize that that's stupid, so you're not going to bring it up. But if that's the case, why refuse to come on stage and debate in the first place? And so, you leave that action undefended.
But that's not the worst thing.
The worst thing, the thing that made this so hugely stupid for Rick Scott is that with the election just three weeks ago, the race is a dead-heat. Each candidate with 40% of the support in the polls. So, this is the point where anything can sway the balance, where the undecided voters are looking for something, anything to push them in one direction or the other. And it's not likely going to be about a big issue, since where the candidates stand on the issues is pretty clear by now. It's that "something." that can make the difference. The "Do I like this guy?" factor. And the one thing a candidate does not want is for something negative to dominate the coverage the rest of the way, most especially if that something is an easily understood visual image.
An image like, oh, say --
And in the last three weeks of the Florida governor's race -- that's the image that will dominate the coverage. Because everything else has long-since been said. It's the only thing new. And it's really, really stupid.
And you can't miss it.
Remember how long people made fun of Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair? Well...now, we know where that empty chair went...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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