"Need some wood?"
-- President George W. Bush, debating Sen. John Kerry, Oct. 11, 2004
In 2012, George W. Bush never would have made it out of the GOP primaries. Putting aside the fact that he may be too liberal for this crowd (God, I can't believe I just wrote that), he was always a mediocre debater. Not the worst, mind you, not now that his Texas doppelganger Rick Perry has shown us how low you can set the limbo bar. And Bush 43 was fortunate that his Democratic rivals Al Gore and John Kerry were pretty weak on their feet. But Bush won the GOP nomination in 2000 the old-fashioned way, by raising more money, and he didn't have to worry about coming up with zingers every five or six days for yet another debate on Fox.
I was wondering the other day where were all the shots of candidates in Iowa farmers' living rooms and New Hampshire diners. They don't do that anymore.
“Everything has changed,” said Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, who traveled across Iowa as an unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate four years ago. “It’s like a town hall every day on Fox News. You hear people talking back to you what you saw yesterday on Fox. I like Fox and I’m glad we have an outlet, but it is having a major, major effect on what happens.”
The Fox News effect is amplified by other factors. Cable networks are staging more debates than ever, obliging candidates to build their fall schedules around preparing for and traveling to the slickly produced televised clashes, and putting a premium on a set of skills different from those of retail campaigning.
I guess only an old fogey like me would think this is a bad development. The average voter who doesn't eat breakfast in a Nashua, N.H. truck stop gets to see more of the candidates on TV, and thus how fast they are on their feet. But being a great (or in the case of the current crop, competent) debater is more telling that you're a great (or competent) debater than that you'll be a great commander-in-chief. And you know what else we miss when the candidates don't come to your living room any more?
They simply just don't listen.