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The first GOP debaters were asked to describe Hillary Clinton in two words. They ... didn't.

Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

During today's afternoon debate for the bottom seven GOP presidential candidates in the polls, moderator Bill Hemmer of Fox News posed what turned out to be an unexpectedly tough question: "What two words would you use to describe the Democratic frontrunner?"

Update: Coverage of the Republican debate on CNN.

The candidates all knew that they didn't like Hillary Clinton — but most had difficulty limiting themselves to two words on the topic. Here's what they said:

  • George Pataki: "Divisive and with no vision — no vision at all."
  • Carly Fiorina: "Not trustworthy, no accomplishment."
  • Rick Santorum: "Secretive and untrustworthy."
  • Rick Perry: "Let's go with three — good at email."
  • Bobby Jindal: "Socialist and government-dependent."
  • Lindsey Graham: "Not the change we need at a time we need it."
  • Jim Gilmore: "Professional politician that can't be trusted."

If we're generous and we count Jindal's "government-dependent" as a single word, only he and Santorum managed to keep their dislike of Clinton to just two words. Perry — surely quite sensitive to matters involving counting during debates at this point — at least acknowledged that he was going over the limit. The rest didn't really care.

I side with the candidates on this one. Asking candidates to describe something in one or two words is a regrettably common practice for debate questioners, but it really doesn't make much sense. Why artificially restrict how much they can say? It can wrongfoot the candidates and make for entertaining TV, but it doesn't really help with our understanding of anything.

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