In 2008, the Democratic primaries went until June, and Barack Obama had over 20 debates during his brutal battle with Hillary Clinton. When he won the presidency in November, the prevailing view became that the long primary actually helped him, sharpening his debating skills going into the fall, and allowing potentially damaging news (such as his relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright) to come out when it would do the least harm — during the period when he was too far ahead on delegates to lose the Democratic nomination, but before the general election started.
The RNC has also decided to make its 2016 convention earlier — as early as June — so the nominee can begin to spend general election funds earlier than in 2012, when the convention took place in late August. But again, there is no reason to think this will improve matters. In 2004, John Kerry effectively clinched the Democratic nomination in early March, when his main rival, John Edwards, dropped out. The Democratic National Convention that nominated Kerry was held in July, while the GOP convention that year extended into September. After Kerry lost, the popular conclusion was that the early convention hurt Kerry because the Swift Boat story dominated news in August and fed right into the Republican convention, and the Kerry campaign never was able to adequately respond.
It’s silly for RNC officials to think they can orchestrate a process that will protect the eventual nominee from serious scrutiny during the primary season, and to the extent that they’re able to do so, to think that a reduced level of scrutiny is automatically a good thing. Whatever one’s assessment of the Romney campaign, few would dispute that its high point came when Romney pummeled Obama in their first debate. And there’s good reason to believe that the practice Romney gained during the seemingly endless cycle of Republican primary debates against spirited rivals including Gingrich and Rick Santorum worked to his advantage, especially against the out-of-practice Obama.