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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What it Takes to Do Well in a GOP Debate

CNN's debate stage
The first Republican debate is over and it seems the clear winner was Mitt Romney. In fact, National Journal polled political insiders (names at the link) and found 51% of Republican insiders believed Mittens walked away with it. Only 35% of Democrats agreed, but he was the winner among them as well. Among both groups, Michele Bachmann came in second, but I think she benefits from the soft bigotry of low expectations -- she didn't swallow her tongue, claim that the United States was founded to fight communism, or praise President Lincoln's initiative in starting the space program.

So it was Mittens who took the night. The best take on that I've read so far comes from Steve M. at No More Mr. Nice Blog:

...Romney pitches his voice midway between avuncular and angry; his words are pitched the same way. I think he may have a sweet spot: this stuff plays to every Limbaughnista and Fox fan's bitter resentments, but the rest of America has heard this stuff for so many decades -- ever since Reagan, really -- that by now it sounds like harmless common-sense folk wisdom. After all the craziness in the last election cycle, Romney might sound like a return to sanity while promising to do pretty much what the crazy people promised to do. That could work -- and if so, he's really dangerous.


↓ CONTINUED AFTER THE JUMP ↓


How important is a debate more than a year away from election day? To voters, not very. But that doesn't mean it can't influence the campaign. Nate Silver explains:

First, the debate serves mostly to influence elite opinion -- including partisan strategists, the news media, local party leaders, major donors and bundlers and the candidates and their staffs. Much less so ordinary voters, who are not yet tuning in.

Second, only a couple of themes are liable to remembered days (let alone weeks or months) later. The subtle distinctions that a candidate draws on the differences between their Medicare plan and Representative Paul Ryan's -- that stuff will be forgotten about. Instead, it's the "artistic impression" of the candidates that matters -- as well as any actual, breaking news.


Bachmann got the "breaking news" hook -- somewhat undeservedly, if you ask me -- by revealing that she was officially running for president. In a saner world, this announcement at a presidential debate would be greated with resounding cries of "Well duh!" -- but that saner world is not the one in which TV news talking heads reside.

But the consensus seems to be that, if the Tea Party money men were waiting to see who their frontrunner would be, they found out last night. If Silver's assessment is correct, then expect talk about Herman Cain to begin to evaporate as 'bagger astroturf money lines up behind Bachmann. There's plenty of time to see how that pans out.

What should have people worried is that the debate was dominated by insane horsecrap and pandering. Here's an example, from the woman whose supposedly gaffe-free night got her the runner-up trophy:

"I don't see that it's the role of a president to go into states and interfere with their state laws," said [Rep. Michele] Bachmann, a favorite of Tea Party members who believe in states' rights.

But then, after some other candidates said that they supported a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, she amended her answer.

"John, I do support a constitutional amendment on marriage between a man and a woman," she told the moderator, John King of CNN, "but I would not be going into the states to overturn their state law."


So she wouldn't overturn same-sex marriage laws in the states, but she would support a federal ban on gay marriage, so long as it didn't ban gay marriage -- which of course it would, what with being a constitutional amendment and all. I'm amazed that more people aren't calling her on this, because it's exactly the sort of frootloopery that Bachmann supposedly masterfully avoided.

Is this how low the bar is set now for Republicans? Michele Bachmann managed to get through the night without hallucinating (or, at least, without anyone being able to tell she was hallucinating) and that counts as a Jeffersonian feat of statesmanship. While I agree with Steve M. that Romney's crazy-man-as-sane-man act is disturbing, it turns out that -- at least as far as the punditry is concerned -- he needn't have bothered. As long as he didn't strangle on his on tie, he'd be the picture of dignity and competence.

-Wisco


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