Thursday, January 26, 2012

Are there too many debates?

The Washington Post raises the question of whether there are too many debates in the presidential primaries, writing:

Are Americans getting too much of a good thing?

By the end of the week, there will have been 19 debates among the GOP contenders for president. No other events have played so great a role in turning the party’s normally orderly process of picking a standard-bearer into a roller coaster ride. . . .

Debates were the undoing of two once-promising candidates, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. They made front-runners, however briefly, of two otherwise unlikely ones, Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and former Godfather’s Pizza chief executive Herman Cain.

And without them, former House speaker Newt Gingrich would not have been able to resurrect his dying campaign, not once but twice.

The long season of debates has undoubtedly made the candidates familiar figures to many Americans, offering the willing viewer plenty of opportunity to absorb competing economic plans and various other positions.

One could argue that it has altered the balance of power a bit, shifting it away from the party establishment to an electorate apparently eager to engage: Ratings show the debates are drawing huge audiences.

But some worry that Republicans are putting too much emphasis on how well the candidates perform on a debating stage . . .

[Karl] Rove is concerned that the amount of time that candidates are spending in debates and on preparing for them has taken away from other priorities, such as deepening their messages, broadening their appeal and building their organizations.
Yeah, right: Karl Rove is worried that the candidates are being distracted from deepening their messages. If you watch the documentary about George W. Bush's 2000 campaign, Journeys with George, you'll see that Rove's own boss went around the country spouting the exact same feel-good talking points for two years, and the journalists who had to follow him around felt they were part of a mind-numbing charade. I'm sure most presidential campaigns are the same.

Having a lot of debates forces the candidates to keep up with the issues of the day. It forces them to confront moderators and opponents who can put them on the spot. These are good things. There's very little opportunity cost in preventing the candidates from spending even more time repeating the same stump speech to different crowds.