Back in 1964 Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan famously proclaimed about television that "the medium is the message", meaning that we need to look at the characteristics and impact of the medium itself, not just the content that it carries. Lets apply that principle to the Republican debates.
For the past five months the political narrative in the country has been increasingly dominated by the group of nine or ten contenders for the Republican presidential nomination while the president has gone around the country giving his stump speech about a "jobs" bill that nobody thinks has a chance of passing the Democratic Senate or the Republican House. To date there have been six debates with eleven more planned through next March. For most, to be invited a candidate needs to have achieved 1% or more in five national polls - a hurdle which makes for a crowded stage, but no legitimate complaints of exclusion.
The "Big Tent" is obvious. Geography of the candidates ranges from Northeast (Romney, Santorum); to Southeast (Gingrich, Cain); to Southwest (Perry, Paul, Johnson) to Midwest (Bachmann, Pawlenty); to the Mountain States (Hunstman). Gender includes Bachmann; race includes Cain; religion includes Huntsman and Romney. Ideology ranges from libertarian (Paul); to liberal (Johnson); to moderate (Romney); to conservative (the rest.)
Media coverage is guaranteed with individual debate sponsorship by Fox, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, ABC, PBS, Politico, the Washington Examiner, the Washington Post, the Des Moines Register, the Tea Party Express, Google, and You Tube. Geographic interest is enhanced by holding debates in California, New Hampshire, Florida, and all points between. With viewership ranging between 3 and 6 million the Republican National Committee is getting a lot of free advertising.
The debates should put to bed any lingering claim that the Republicans have no ideas - see Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan, his "Chilean model" for Social Security reform, Mitt Romney's 59 point plan to get the economy going, or Newt Gingrich's new "Contract With America". There have been a few ugly audience points - cheering Perry's defense of the death penalty; booing a gay soldier's question about the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell", and a few cheers for Ron Paul's libertarian view that a patient who has refused to buy health insurance should be allowed to die. (The first two deserve a policy discussion; the third involved just a couple zealots.)
This process is working well for Romney who has been through something like it before. He hasn't been seriously challenged because the format prefers sound bites over follow-ups; opponents fear blow-back for violating Reagan's admonition against attacking fellow Republicans; the struggle has been among the others to be the anti-Romney; and some harbor a hope of a vice presidential nod or a cabinet position. The large swath of the party which resents Romneycare, his establishment connections, or even his Mormon faith has tested a series of more conservative candidates, none of whom have yet gained lasting traction. Giving Ron Paul a place on the stage has averted any serious talk of a third party insurrection. Leaders like Jim DeMint who were instrumental in toppling inadequately conservative incumbent Republicans in 2010 have supported the open process and have indicated that they could accept a Romney nomination - the objective is to defeat Obama.
The larger point is that more people, particularly among the political class, know Rick Perry's position on in-state tuition for illegal immigrants or are asking about Herman Cain's tax proposals than care where President Obama is giving his next "tax the rich" speech. On the date of the first debate Obama's Real Clear Politics average poll rating was 51% approve; 43 % disapprove. Today it is the reverse. Given the ongoing direct public exposure, it is increasingly difficult for the Democrats and liberal media to demonize a stage-full of legitimate candidates whose center-right positions match the mood of the country.
Here's an early cut of an Obama '12 ad. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIA5aszzA18. Maybe "Four More Years" could use a bit of fine tuning.
www.RightinSanFrancisco.com - 10/7/11