The five Republican Presidential debates and two Democratic debates have produced a clear winner. The public. The debates, for better or worse, have generated more interest, anticipation and dialogue among potential voters than any time in recent history. Because of that, there is no clear loser.
The Pew Research Center reports that seven in ten people have watched some part of the debates prior to last night's Republican debate. That's 69% of the public. And almost three quarters of them say they have given some thought to the candidates. One year ahead of the election.
The current level of engagement by the public has been generated by a confluence of the large numbers of media involved and the politicians themselves. We have been instructed how to watch the debates, who's on first and who's rounding up last place. We have been angered by the outrageousness of some of the candidate's remarks and perhaps found a comforting comment here and there. Whether it's the negativity, anger or touted political policies, this year's debates have creating a unique learning curve that has changed the political process in ways totally unexpected.
While some have felt there have been too many debates, and others have described them as "fun" to watch as if they are a spectator sport, there are few who won't say they don't have some kind of opinion. The smaller Democratic field with fewer debates has created a calmer approach, but the sheer number of Republican debates is working. They have enabled us to get to a point where last night Jeb Bush actually stood up to and attacked Donald Trump. Where the crassness of Ted Cruz met head on with ripe for the fight Marco Rubio. And where John Kasich's young daughter became one of the best focus groups saying she doesn't like politics because "there's too much fighting, too much yelling."
The winnowing out process has begun. Substance is starting to sneak through. The more we see of the 2016 group of politicians running for President of the United States, the more we learn. The key will be turning all of our current engagement and interest into actual votes.