Thursday, February 23, 2012

Two Questions About the GOP Debates

1. Why would a modern political party turn over a large chunk of influence over their nomination process to the candidate best able to...pack the room for debates, thus ensuring that his points would be interpreted as resonating with real voters and that whoever failed in this minor organizational achievement would risk getting booed if they attacked that candidate?

2. How is it that Mitt Romney didn't figure out that he was supposed to be packing the room until about the 17th or 18th debate of this cycle (and after living through the same thing in 2008)?

14 comments:

  1. I assume the answer to 1 is that the campaign is a PR exercise for the Republican Party, and having an enthusiastic reception for the party's core ideas on TV for a couple of prime-time hours twenty times in four months is extremely good PR.

    What we've seen in the debates is rapturous applause for ideas, theories, policies and beliefs that are relatively within the Republican mainstream but well outside the American mainstream. If you core goal is to sell those Republican ideas to America, you've done well. This applies whether or not you can sell a particular candidate by doing so.

    At this point, Santorum's insane beliefs about sex and the family (for example) have been somewhat normalized. That has to count as a victory for the Republican Party.

    As for 2, I have no idea. I don't think Mitt Romney thought the debates mattered much. I think he thought he could look like a President and his network was going to deliver him the nomination anyway. (It will, but it's going to be close-run). He's having an Ed Muskie campaign, with the differences being he's not being heavily ratf***ed and his demeanor hasn't fallen apart yet.

    He's going to get a heck of a COMEBACK KID MITT!! reception from the media though, once he does lock things up, and that will give wind to his sails going forward if he doesn't piss it away.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Re: #1, Perhaps some party actors think that bit of atmospherics manipulation is a good little test of a candidates dedication and awareness of what sorts of PR measures it takes to succeed at the head of the current GOP. That's it's seemingly minor, but actually been surprisingly relatively consequential may make it the perfect mini test and signal. I don't really by this, but if I were concocting a rationalization, this is the direction I'd head in. After all, the Bush administration devoted quite a bit of effort to managing audience composition throughout his traveling events during his term: so in a way it's a fair test of whether the candidates *get* what they'll have to do, as they proceed toward the presidency.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. (Ha, apologies for not proofreading this before posting.)

      Delete
  3. Well, I would guess the answer to question 1 is that those party actors who are responsible for organizing the debates support Romney.

    And I agree with Tybalt on question 2.

    ReplyDelete
  4. One problem with what you all are saying to the first question: more often than not over the last two cycles, the candidate helped by packing the room has been Ron Paul.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That depends on the debate and how much effort goes into keeping the Paulistas out. In a few debates they have been almost totally absent -- that's by design. Like Russell said, the process is manipulated by party actors.

      Delete
  5. IT is because party actors aren't in charge anymore.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jeez, Kylo, that's why they have to hold a primary!!!!!

      Delete
    2. Thinking GOP primary voters are the ones "in charge" is naive.

      Delete
  6. FWIW, last night's debate, net of one in California, was the first one in this cycle that was in passionately-friendly Romney territory. The rest were mostly held in Iowa/NH/Florida...NH voted for Romney, but are they really passionate for him?

    Seems crazy to suggest it, but might team Romney simply not be able to rustle up enough reliables for the Iowa/NH/Florida debates? I'm not referring to voters; I mean people you're 100% certain will yell for you, even if one of the other three makes a great point at your expense.

    So for example, if Ron Paul were having a debate around here, he could invite me to attend, and I'd be flattered and sympathetic, but if one of the others made a great rebuttal I'd be like "So, Congressman Paul, what say you to that?" Paul would pretty obviously prefer to have someone like Couves in the audience, who would answer his own hypothetical, in this example, and get right back to the cheering.

    Does Romney not have any Couveses in Iowa/NH/Florida, I mean really realy reliable supporters? He might not. Lot of voters, not many passionate believers, it seems to me.

    (Of coure, Romney could 'solve' this problem by busing in passionate supporters from elsewhere, but any advantage to that would quickly be undone by the NYT headline the following day: "Romney buses in supporters to maintain the illusion of popularity")

    ReplyDelete
  7. Are we trying to imply that Newt Gingrich was the one who was so organized a month or two ago when it appeared that his whole campaign was being kept alive by his ability to play to the debate audiences?

    My Google-Fu is mostly coming up dry, but I did find a transcript of the infamous 2008 Dem Primary debate in Pennsylvania:

    I've asked the audience not to applaud during the debate. What's important is not the reaction of those in the Kimmel Theater, but the reaction of voters in Pennsylvania, who go to the polls next Tuesday, and people around the country.

    And the way I remember it, the biggest audience reaction was them openly booing Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopolis for asking questions about every petty, ginned-up personal attack that had come up over the past four months. But audiences asked not to applaud, wasn't that was the case for most if not all of the '08 debates, including the four during the general?

    From npr:

    communications guru Kathleen Hall Jamieson says on Moyers & Company, the debates "have created a context in which the viewer at home is not watching the candidate and responding to the candidate, but is instead responding to the interaction between that candidate and an audience ... You are being cued to respond to the question and the answer in a way that doesn't let you, yourself, reflect on the meaning of that answer." The TV ratings have been relatively high. But the debate audiences "have put off a lot of voters," Democrat Neera Tanden says. She remembers that the atmosphere four years ago was quite different. "No hissing at service members. Or applauding someone dying without insurance."

    Perhaps things have changed since the League of Women Voters had the rug pulled out from under their role as debate arbiters, in favor of party officals?

    ReplyDelete
  8. For the same reason a political party would decide to give a lot of influence to the candidate who realizes it's important to do well in small and medium states in February rather than focusing only on big states or to the candidate who realizes it's important to qualify for the ballot in the Virginia and Indiana primaries. If you can't handle the small, basic details of running for a Presidential nomination, you won't be any good in the general election or as President either.

    ReplyDelete
  9. It seems unwise to assume that this is a conscious decision by the party.

    ReplyDelete

Who links to my website?