The candidate reaction to increased scrutiny is timidity and increased calculation. The level of attention and constant pressure is likely to squeeze out the innovation, risk-taking, and spark that we want in our presidential candidates. If they can somehow retain these qualities, they don’t dare show them, for the searchlights will be on them immediately. There was once a period in which two years before the primaries presidential candidates could roam around Iowa and New Hampshire without these constraints. That gave us a better chance to see them before they were encased like Robocop in armor and artifice. It wasn’t a genuine view, but it was less rigid than the full battle-readiness now required. Christie’s office used to promote YouTube videos of the governor in heated conversations with constituents. No more of that now—the governor doesn’t want to reanimate the image of him as a bully. So after his latest town hall, the governor’s office released a picture of him giving a little girl a high-five. Next week: puppies.
The early onslaught has other downsides. Candidates must raise more money than ever to battle against being defined too early (as Mitt Romney was). That means more time in double-staircase mansions shaking the tin cup and more attention spent answering and anticipating the fishtailing attacks being peddled in the noise machine. It also means more time playing tit-for-tat. So Walker is on the defensive about his emails and he sends a little return fire aimed at Clinton, who he said was a creature of Washington with few achievements. The earlier you have to retreat to friendly venues like the Hugh Hewitt radio show, the greater chance you’ll stay in that comfortable space and not venture out to more challenging venues, which might illuminate who you are or what substance you bring. The early onset of the campaign vise means that if a candidate ever makes it to the White House, she has been under the klieg lights for so long that her equanimity is a faded memory.