Green Room

Politico’s Primary Production: A debate not worth having

posted at 12:33 am on November 19, 2010 by

November 13, 1979: Ronald Reagan announces he’ll seek the Republican nomination for President.

The content of Reagan’s speech still resonates. Reagan speaks of reducing spending and lowering taxes. He advocates a streamlining of government and a dismantling of the federal bureaucracy that’s burrowed its tentacles into more and more aspects of our lives. He reminds America of her greatness. He presents what’s really an ode to Tea Party values that, with a little updating in the current events department, is as concise and compelling a message you’re going to find of what the Republican Party should stand for.

There’s a lot more that can be said about the speech, but this isn’t a post about the content of the speech. It’s about when it was given.

With no Internet and far fewer television stations, one would think that it’d be a must to declare one’s Presidential aspirations very, very early in the cycle. Though clearly a front-runner, Reagan did not formalize his interest until well into the process. In fact, the first primary of the 1980 Presidential season was on January 21st — a mere 70 days after Reagan’s candidacy officially commenced.

I’m under no illusions that candidates for higher office don’t campaign long before making their intentions “official.” Lining up donors, testing the policy waters and the response of voters… it’s all part of the process. What I have trouble accepting is that it’s healthy to formalize the process of selecting another government before there’s been any governing by the most recently elected one.

That’s my problem with the Presidential primary “debate” Politico announced last week that it will put on this Spring, and which co-sponsor NBC will presumably broadcast. With the Reagan Library as a backdrop and with none other than First Lady Nancy Reagan in support, the political newspaper is planning an electoral event before there are even any declared candidates to headline it. Whether Mrs. Reagan suggested the event to Politico or vice versa — the headline of the press release, “POLITICO, NBC News co-host first 2012 debate at Reagan Library,” doesn’t mention the former First Lady at all — it’s an arrangement that should make us all uncomfortable, not least of which reasons is that it turns what should be a slower, more methodical process for candidates and voters into a two-year soundbite slog. Americans can find plenty about the candidates on their own without having their candidates pass through a preordained “eye of the needle.” The internet has disintermediated much of the Presidential introduction process. Quite frankly, this is a the media’s way of reintermediating itself.

In fact, this event is what our press needs, not what the American People or our political culture need. That Politico and MSNBC held a similar debate in May 2007 still fails to convince me that such a debate is either wise or necessary. (Even there, the announcement for the debate was made on February 14. And the headline then? “REAGAN PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY TO HOST GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES’ DEBATE.” Compare, contrast.)

Why are we formally planning for the next government before the latest government is even seated? Why is a news operation casting itself as the gate-keeper to the nomination instead of an eventual facilitator when there are candidates to nominate?

I have no objection to Politico presiding over a debate among the candidates, or being the first to do it. But this is not the way. If we’re going to have primary debates, let them begin in November, not March, a sort of Reagan Rule for Electoral Mental Health — no debates before November 13. Times change, and with them, campaigns change, but that doesn’t mean our candidates should bend to the needs of a 24/7 news cycle and sacrifice the seriousness of our elected offices to meet the traffic needs of those covering them. It’s the TMZ-ing of the Presidency, the play-by-play celebritization of the political process, the sweeps weeking of government. Political players generate news organically. We don’t need news organizations generating it for us.

Our eventual candidates can declare their intentions whenever they deem necessary. I just hope they don’t find Politico’s springtime debate a necessary part of those plans, and gently recommend that the newspaper push their event back to a more appropriate time. It’d be better for our candidates, and it’d be better for our democracy.


(Agree? Disagree? I’m on Twitter.)

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The real objection I have, beyond the timing issue you raise, is the pairing of the sponsors.

Why can’t we have it be a little more, fair and balanced?

If we are going to be forced to submit to NBC and Tom Brokaw/Brian Williams controlling some of the questioning, why can’t Politico move aside and let the Heritage Foundation partner with NBC?

The next GOP Debate can be Politico/Fox News Channel.

Then, ABC News/Wall Street Journal.

See where I’m going with this?

Why do the damn Libs get to control the entire debate structure, the moderator choice, the nature of the questions and who will get what questions?

Let’s have George Stephanopoulus pair up with Paul Gigot.

It would be so much more interesting for the voters who will be nominating these people. If we must have a lib asking lib questions, let’s at least have a non-lib or a conservative next to them to ask the next question.

How about CNN/HotAir? There’s an idea.

John King and Ed Morrissey. Allah won’t show himself, but maybe he could provide a few questions to Ed.

The last cycle of debates were mostly crap arranged by liberal media to make all of them look bad together and individually, plus the formats were extremely stiff and boring.

Brian1972 on November 19, 2010 at 8:58 AM

I saw your comment in the Romney thread and thought, “Dreamer!” ha. Still, one can hope we’d have a substantial evaluation period before slapping the last names and one liners on our car bumpers.

Another unintended consequence (or is it?) of our frenetic soundbite-addled culture: slower-paced, yet, worthy candidates who wait to announce lose momentum…if ever gain traction at all.

(Admittedly still sore over Fred! Alas.)

Excellent post.

Bee on November 19, 2010 at 9:36 AM

So Politico is admitting that Obama is failure, a disaster and they want to begin the search for a replacement already?

Skandia Recluse on November 19, 2010 at 9:53 AM

Skandia Recluse on November 19, 2010 at 9:53 AM

Uh, not exactly.

They want to be the first out of the gate in the campaign to damage the opposition for him, while he’s above it all, Mr. Cool. It won’t work this time, though. Too many people are wise to that game they pulled last time.

Brian1972 on November 19, 2010 at 10:00 AM

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Allahpundit on November 19, 2010 at 9:12 PM