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The Debate Winner
The Weekly Standard ^ | 12-19-2011 | Fred Barnes - OP/ED

Posted on 12/12/2011 6:29:32 PM PST by smoothsailing

The Debate Winner

How the Republican contests help Obama.

Fred Barnes

December 19, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 14

Republicans are paying a high price for allowing their presidential race to be dominated by nationally televised debates. The GOP candidates have reduced themselves to supplicants whose weak points are probed by media questioners. Meanwhile, they’ve given President Obama a free pass to set the terms of the 2012 campaign.

Obama has seized the opportunity. His effort culminated last week in the most divisive speech by a president in the lifetime of most Americans. Obama positioned himself as the champion of middle-class Americans whose future is threatened by Republicans tolerant of “breathtaking greed” and inequality “that we haven’t seen since the Great Depression.”

He acts as if the first three years of his presidency—marked by the failure of his policies to revive the economy and the enactment of Obamacare—simply didn’t exist. What matters now, according to Obama, is thwarting Republicans and creating economic fairness. In his words, it’s “the defining issue of our time.”

Obama has largely gotten away with this argument. The press has neither called him on it nor faulted him for fleeing from his record. And many Republicans don’t take his case for class warfare seriously enough to combat it. Or if they’ve tried, their criticism has drawn little attention.

Why? Because the media are obsessed with the debates as the only meaningful voice of Republicans at the moment. There have been 16 TV debates so far, with three more scheduled before the Iowa caucuses on January 3. You’d think the Republican presidential candidates would tire of the format. But they keep showing up.

Obama is not on the debate agenda. Rather, the media sponsors are eager to generate excitement, which means bickering and tension and name-calling among the candidates. They force the candidates to focus on each other, never on Obama. The candidates either go along willingly or acquiesce. Newt Gingrich has complained occasionally about the triviality of some of the questions, but he’s never missed one of the debates.

So it adds up to this: Republican candidates and their minions have devoted the past six months to preparing for debates, debating, then talking about how the debates went. The president has concentrated on fleshing out a self-serving narrative for his reelection and now is trying to impose it on the campaign. Whose time was spent more productively?

Besides aiding Obama, Republicans have hurt themselves in numerous ways by letting the debates be the organizing events of the campaign. The stronger candidates have been diminished by appearing, debate after debate, on equal footing with also-rans whose chances of winning the party’s presidential nomination are nil.

With debates so frequent, peripheral candidates have no incentive to drop out. Fundraising, building an organization, developing policy papers—these aren’t needed to qualify for debates. The willingness to show up is sufficient. For also-rans, availability is their strong suit.

Lining up the also-rans gives debate sponsors the leverage to persuade the more serious candidates to participate. Who would want to be represented by an empty chair in a debate watched by five or six million likely voters? Not Gingrich or Mitt Romney.

The debates have distracted the media from policy positions advanced by the candidates. Romney put out a 59-point economic plan. It got minimal attention. When he took a surprisingly bold position on entitlement reform, it too was mostly ignored. Attempting to outline his positions in 30 seconds or one minute would be a futile exercise.

Jon Huntsman brought up his impressive tax reform plan in the debates, but his media interrogators didn’t bite. What did work was Herman Cain’s catchy “9-9-9” tax scheme. It may not have stood up to scrutiny, but examination of a plan for reforming the tax code is impossible in a debate broken into 30-second or one-minute interventions.

Maybe that’s too picky. But making a candidate’s debating ability a major criterion for presidential status misses a point. Presidents are required to do many things, but debating is not one of them. Prime ministers debate, but we don’t have a parliamentary system.

Yet in the Republican race, debates have marginalized every other aspect of the campaign. Rick Perry is the longest-serving governor in the history of Texas, but that proved to be worthless up against his poor performance in debates. Gingrich resigned from Congress in 1998 after a revolt by his Republican peers, but his effectiveness in debates transformed him into the frontrunner for the nomination.

Romney, more often than his rivals, was declared the winner of debates. But he turns out to be a loser. He was too cautious, declining to make a strong pitch for conservatives and thus broaden his base of support. Gingrich was expansive and had nothing but praise for the other candidates. He was the big winner of the debate sweepstakes.

Along with Obama. He’s marketed, with some success, the notion that the 2012 election is a choice between the rich and the middle class. Caught up in debates, Republicans have been too busy to give this notion the drubbing it deserves.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.


TOPICS: Editorial; News/Current Events; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS:

1 posted on 12/12/2011 6:29:38 PM PST by smoothsailing
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To: smoothsailing
Who would want to be represented by an empty chair in a debate watched by five or six million likely voters? Not Gingrich or Mitt Romney.

No empty chair for Jon Huntsman Saturday night. Barnes is a media TNR douchebag.

2 posted on 12/12/2011 6:42:05 PM PST by hinckley buzzard
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To: hinckley buzzard

Was Huntsman even invited? Isn’t there something about a minimum average polling number?


3 posted on 12/12/2011 6:52:23 PM PST by smoothsailing (Rick Perry: "This president is the problem, not something that Newt Gingrich said")
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To: smoothsailing

Agree with Fred Barnes completely.
Republican candidates are getting picked over like crows on a dead animal.


4 posted on 12/12/2011 6:56:04 PM PST by mojo114 (Pray for our military)
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To: hinckley buzzard

Perry came accross presidential. It was good to see.


5 posted on 12/12/2011 7:02:05 PM PST by GreatRoad (O < 0)
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To: smoothsailing
Republicans are paying a high price for allowing their presidential race to be dominated by nationally televised debates.

It's no different than when any other sitting president is running unopposed for his party's nomination. After the R. nominee has been chosen, all these negatives brought up in the primary campaign will be old news.

6 posted on 12/12/2011 7:07:06 PM PST by Graybeard58 (Of course Obama loves his country but I want a President who loves mine.)
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To: smoothsailing
Was Huntsman even invited? Isn’t there something about a minimum average polling number?

He was not invited due to his poll numbers.

I'm hearing rumors that one or two of the upcoming debates maybe dropping another 1-2 candidates, which could be Santorum and either Bachmann or Perry depending on which polls are used. Santorum is an easy call, Bachmann/Perry not so much since they tie in some polls. I'd rather not see those two dropped if they are close to one another in some polls, but Santorum is an easy call. I'd rather the debates focus in on the top candidates, and Ron Paul's supporters are making damn sure he's hanging in there :(
7 posted on 12/12/2011 7:23:26 PM PST by af_vet_rr
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To: af_vet_rr

Agree on Santorum. I do think they shouldn’t drop anyone else until after the Iowa Caucus.

In any event, it would be just Perry’s luck to be dropped now that he’s starting to get the hang of this debate thing.

Come to think of it, he might be relieved, retail politics is his strong suit IMO.


8 posted on 12/12/2011 7:59:37 PM PST by smoothsailing (Rick Perry: "This president is the problem, not something that Newt Gingrich said")
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To: smoothsailing
So it adds up to this: Republican candidates and their minions have devoted the past six months to preparing for debates, debating, then talking about how the debates went.

Sad isn’t it? People are looking for a Debater in Chief: someone who can talk well, regardless of his core beliefs and convictions. A lot of Newt supporters are waiting with baited breath to see Newt debate Obama, because the entertainment value will be magnificent.

Who really cares about America? Are those searching for a glib personality to deliver debate entertainment, or those searching for a genuine conservative to captain the ship of state during these difficult times?

9 posted on 12/12/2011 8:19:48 PM PST by Victoria Delsoul
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To: Victoria Delsoul
Yes, it is sad. Too many people are forgetting what form of government we have. Presidents don't debate.

But making a candidate’s debating ability a major criterion for presidential status misses a point. Presidents are required to do many things, but debating is not one of them. Prime ministers debate, but we don’t have a parliamentary system.

10 posted on 12/12/2011 8:42:22 PM PST by smoothsailing (Rick Perry: "This president is the problem, not something that Newt Gingrich said")
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To: smoothsailing

That’s exactly right. But after 8 years of Bush bashing by the media, I understand why people desperately want to find someone who doesn’t embarrass them when he speaks. The only problem is that notwithstanding Newt’s ability to speak well, the exploitation of his baggage by a relentless media sympathetic to Obama will be a major embarrassment for the campaign.


11 posted on 12/12/2011 8:55:48 PM PST by Victoria Delsoul
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To: smoothsailing

Huntsman skipped because he’s not competing for Iowa and there were three major Iowa debates scheduled in a nine day timeframe.


12 posted on 12/12/2011 10:17:32 PM PST by newzjunkey (Republicans will find a way to reelect Obama and Speaker Pelosi.)
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To: smoothsailing

I didn’t like these debates in 2007, and I don’t really like them now. Barnes is absolutely right that the candidates have “reduced themselves to supplicants” before self-important news media personalities. Fred Thompson pointing out the absurdity of the hand-raising questions should have woken them up.

While the “Lincoln-Douglas” moniker is a tad overused, Gingrich is absolutely right that we need debates that are actual debates, with a timekeeper and no moderator. It should be the candidates setting the agenda, not Diane Sawyer or Brian Williams.


13 posted on 12/12/2011 10:50:53 PM PST by The Pack Knight (Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Weep, and the world laughs at you.)
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To: Graybeard58
It's no different than when any other sitting president is running unopposed for his party's nomination. After the R. nominee has been chosen, all these negatives brought up in the primary campaign will be old news.

I sure hope it's different, because history is not on our side in this regard. Since World War II (and in fact going back earlier), no sitting President who ran unopposed for his party's nomination has ever lost the general election.

The only three incumbent Presidents since World War II to lose in the general election all faced significant nomination challengers - Ford had Reagan, Carter had Ted Kennedy, and Bush had Buchanan.

Truman in '52 and Johnson in '68 likely would have joined them had they not seen the writing on the wall and decided in the face of serious opposition within their own party that discretion was the better part of valor.
14 posted on 12/12/2011 11:10:27 PM PST by The Pack Knight (Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Weep, and the world laughs at you.)
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To: smoothsailing; All
Here's a comment that I wrote for another Thread here on FR and another perspective on how the Debates could help Obozo ride to victory in November 2012 and have 4 more years to destroy this nation:

The Republican Party, and even we Conservatives, are friggin’ pulling defeat from the jaws of victory. All of our candidates, with the help of their supporters, are demonizing and destroying each other during this “Primary Process”. Whomever the nominee is, they will go into the General Election wounded and bloodied and Obozo will just put his foot on their throat and finish them off using his $Billion war chest to just show clips and run sound-bites of all the destructive things our candidates (especially Michele Bachmann) have said about each other. We’ve shot ourselves in the foot. I don’t know if we can recover in the General Election. JUST DAMN!!!
15 posted on 12/12/2011 11:13:17 PM PST by no dems (Why do you never see "Obama" bumper stickers on cars going to work in the morning?)
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To: GreatRoad
Perry came accross presidential. It was good to see. ______________________________________________________________ Yeah, and then the next day, he called Solyndra a country. Read the article in this FR Thread. Guv. dude is friggin' retarded.

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2819150/posts

Texas Guv Rick Perry dropped one Sunday while campaigning in Iowa. Except while railing on Obama, he called Solyndra a country instead of a company. “No greater example of it than this administration sending millions of dollars into the solar industry, and we lost that money,” Perry began. “I want to say it was over $500 million that went to the country Solyndra.”
16 posted on 12/12/2011 11:21:51 PM PST by no dems (Why do you never see "Obama" bumper stickers on cars going to work in the morning?)
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To: no dems
Country:company

Company:country

Just an innocent mistake using similar sounding words. Everyone does it. I do it all the rhyme.

17 posted on 12/13/2011 7:34:02 AM PST by mikhailovich
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To: no dems; GreatRoad

>>>Yeah, and then the next day, he called Solyndra a country. Read the article in this FR Thread. Guv. dude is friggin’ retarded.<<<

Wrong no dems, the Governor isn’t retarded. He’s just human, and you don’t like him.

.....................................................................................................

Obradovich: You struggled in the early debates even though you’ve had some good ones recently. Do you regret at all not getting out to Iowa earlier and getting your feet wet with a lot more questions from Iowans before you had to answer those kind of questions on national television?

Perry: Looking back and trying woulda, coulda, shoulda is an interesting question to ask but the facts are the facts. I mean, I didn’t even make the decision to run until very late June and I had surgery on my back the first of July and ...

Obradovich: How is your back? Are you doing good?

Perry: My back is great, I’m back running again for the last six weeks so I think part of the reason you’ve seen a somewhat different candidate on the debates is that my health is, really both physically and mentally, just really back in the game from the standpoint you have a fusion on your back and it takes you a while to get back on your game.

Obradovich: So, were you not feeling good in those early debates?

Perry: I would suggest to you I was pretty fatigued. But no excuses, it was there, it’s what it is and, look, if anybody’s looking for a perfect candidate I’m not it. If they’re looking for the perfect debater, if they’re looking for someone that is going to have the answer to every question and never make a mistake I’m not their candidate. But if they’re looking for somebody that knows how to run this big government and particularly substantially downsize it, get a balanced budget, get people back to work, lay out a clear plan, cut their taxes and make Washington, D.C. as inconsequential in their lives as we can then I am their guy.

Obradovich: You went on a round of the late night talk shows after that first kind of debate snafu and really poked fun at yourself. Does that come naturally to you?

Perry: Oh yeah.

Obradovich: It does?

Perry: I made fun of myself at a couple of church services this morning. It is what it is. Again, anybody that stands up for public service is going to have some things happen to them and the media is going to report what they report and, again, I’m not perfect and I forget things, I misstate some things but I think Americans are looking for somebody that will admit when they’re wrong, admit when they make a mistake and don’t even mind poking some fun at themselves. So, yeah, it comes pretty natural for me to go, yeah, I stepped in it and press on and stay focused on the work at hand.

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2819459/posts


18 posted on 12/13/2011 7:37:08 AM PST by smoothsailing (Rick Perry: "This president is the problem, not something that Newt Gingrich said")
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To: smoothsailing

Aw, come on, how long are you guys gonna make excuses for this dolt?


19 posted on 12/13/2011 4:27:43 PM PST by no dems (Why do you never see "Obama" bumper stickers on cars going to work in the morning?)
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To: smoothsailing
Perry: I would suggest to you I was pretty fatigued. But no excuses, it was there, it’s what it is and, look, if anybody’s looking for a perfect candidate I’m not it.

No s**t Sherlock.
20 posted on 12/13/2011 4:46:59 PM PST by no dems (Why do you never see "Obama" bumper stickers on cars going to work in the morning?)
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To: no dems
Aw, come on, how long are you guys gonna make excuses for this dolt?

First you said he was retarded, now you say he's a dolt. Make up your mind, damnit! :)

BTW, nd, it's still early in the process, but have you settled on a candidate?

21 posted on 12/13/2011 5:10:05 PM PST by smoothsailing
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