Here's the thing about politicians and their initial rise to national attention: it's often a phenomenon driven by elites.Actually, I would say it's always, not often, driven by elites. Party elites, generally -- not the press, who mostly just amplify what party insiders are saying (in this, we should count the Bill Kristols of the world who make up the partisan press as party insiders, not as part of the neutral media). And while I think that Friedersdorf makes an excellent point in bashing GOP insiders -- he should have specified the governors -- for anointing George W. Bush in 2000, on Gary Johnson I think Friedersdorf is simply out of step with what Republicans want:
...a successful two-term Republican governor with a credible small government record, a demonstrated commitment to civil liberties, skepticism about foreign wars, a longstanding determination to right America's fiscal ship, evidence of competent management skills in the public and private sectors, and an utter lack of ugly populist rhetoric during the whole of his substantial time in public life. You'd think he'd be a God send for tea partiers and civil libertarians...Civil libertarians, sure, but how many Republicans fit into that category? As for Tea Party types...I'm certainly not of the impression that they're (collectively) marked by a commitment to civil liberties, skepticism about foreign wars, or hostility to ugly populist rhetoric. If that's the party that Friedersdorf wants the GOP to be, I think he's going to be disappointed.
At any rate, I'm more interested in the follow-up conservation between Marc Ambinder and Friedersdorf. Ambinder, I think, correctly points out that the media's role (and here I'm talking, as I think Ambinder is, about the neutral, traditional press) is reactive. They'll ignore candidates until and unless those candidates achieve some of the marks of Serious: Ambinder mentions grassroots success, but there's also fundraising , endorsements, and general word-of-mouth among party insiders. But I disagree about Ambinder's insistence (and Friedersdorf's regret) that candidates must "sparkle" to get noticed by the press. Well, mostly disagree. For the most part, "sparkle" is caused by success, not the other way around. Now, that's not absolutely true...it's hard to tell what makes up the good political skills that allow a Barack Obama or a George W. Bush or a Bill Clinton to impress insiders. But we do know that plenty of presidential also-rans, people such as Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson and Jack Kemp and Bruce Babbitt, had plenty of "sparkle" in the right circumstances; they just couldn't, for all kinds of understandable reasons, win the support of party insiders for President of the United States.
The point is that Gary Johnson isn't a hopeless case because he's not good on TV; he's a hopeless case because his issue positions make him unacceptable to the most important groups within the Republican Party, and he doesn't bring anything to compensate for that. Which no doubt stinks if you want a different GOP than the one that actually exists in 2010. Now, it may be that Johnson can mobilize new groups to enter the Republican Party and start to change it...that sort of thing happens to American political parties all the time, in presidential and lower-level nomination battles. But as of now, I'd say that the nomination process does a fairly good job of allowing parties to work together to nominate candidates who are responsive to who those parties are, and the problems that Johnson faces have to do with substance, not process.