Counterintuitive idea of the day: the hype about Donald Trump’s practical joke “candidacy” and Michele Bachmann’s quixotic but attention-getting campaign for the presidency is actually quite useful for the real Republican candidates
Steve Benen is quite right that between the Trump, Bachmann, and Newt sideshows and all the “real” news going on in the world that the real, viable Republican presidential candidates are being seriously deprived of media oxygen right now.
However, I’m not so sure that what Tim Pawlenty and Haley Barbour need right now is a lot of exposure. Oddly enough, the GOP field seems, pending late entrants, to have essentially pre-winnowed itself. Of the dozen or more viable candidates who might have made the race, several of whom at least made some efforts, only Pawlenty, Barbour, and Mitt Romney remain clearly, actively, running for president (with a few others on the fringes of running). We're still in the "invisible primary" of competition over support from party insiders of various kinds (including activists who think of themselves as opposed to those who they think of as insiders), and it's hard to believe those insiders will have any problem learning who the viable candidates are. National media exposure just isn't very relevant to that. And by we hit Super Tuesday, when it does matter, everyone (that is, Republican voters) will know the candidates who won in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.
But in the age of Politico and cable news it's pretty damn hard for that sort of competition to be truly invisible. And it may be the case that the effects of publicity at this stage are damaging to the party as a whole. And yet Romney, Pawlenty, and Barbour have seemingly entered into something resembling an invisibility zone, at least relatively speaking. As a result, they may be able to avoid pinning themselves down with positions (on Libya, or the budget, or other topical issues) that they may regret in fall 2012 -- or may even regret, as events change, during the primaries and caucuses next year. Moreover, it's possible that this invisibility zone might allow them to at least slightly slow down the incentives to leapfrog each other in an effort to get further and further to the right.
Of course, the Republican party at every level is dominated by movement conservatives, so the nomination battle will be fought on that turf, but perhaps the viable candidates can manage to fight on the saner, if not more moderate, side of that turf.
Now, as far as winning the nomination is concerned, we're talking about a zero sum game, so it's certainly possible that one or another candidate is helped by the media semi-blackout. But I'm not sure that it's easy to predict -- or even to analyze after the fact -- how that plays out.