Rick Perry says there are too many GOP presidential debates, and that they’re counterproductive. On Fox News the other day the Texas governor told Bill O’Reilly that his participation in all these word fights might have been a mistake.
“All they are interested in is stirring it up between the candidates instead of really talking about the issues that are important to the American people,” said Governor Perry.
“There are numerous – 15, 16, 17 – debates, and we’re taking a look at each one and we’re making the appropriate consideration,” said Perry spokesman Mark Miner on Thursday.
Is Perry right that there are too many debates? Or is this a baseless complaint, like Emperor Joseph II’s infamous criticism of a Mozart opera for having “too many notes”?
Well, Perry is simply saying out loud what many Republican operatives believe, for one thing. As Byron York points out, there are a dozen debates scheduled between Nov. 9 and the Florida primary on Jan. 31. Given normal holiday breaks, “that’s a lot of debates in very little time,” Mr. York writes.
We count a total of 21 debates overall between last August and the end of the primary season. Totals vary, depending on what you define as a “debate,” but by our total there were 17 debates in the corresponding time period in the 2008 presidential cycle.
So yes, there’s debate creep. Plus, the events themselves are becoming less PBS and more “X Factor,” with flashier graphics, more attention to staging and other production values, and a general amp-up of attempts to define distinctions between candidates.
Yes, debates can introduce to America candidates who aren’t well-known. But after a while, don’t they become exercises in survival, nothing but efforts by presidential hopefuls to negotiate a dangerous evening without committing some kind of perceived gaffe?
But that’s Perry’s problem – he’s committed more than his share of those gaffes. So even if he’s right, he’s wrong. He can’t afford to not debate because he can’t afford to continue to debate. Or something like that.
Also, it is possible that Perry and everyone else bemoaning the plethora of debates has missed a fundamental point: In today’s wired world, debates may be the campaign. Period.
Yes, there is all that hand-shaking in Iowa and hot beverage consumption in New Hampshire diners. But perhaps that matters less than those of us in the old school think. And maybe that’s why Herman Cain is doing so well and defying all those flavor-of-the-month prognostications.
Cain’s got little in the way of a national campaign infrastructure. He hasn’t even appeared in early primary states that much. Some suspect his campaign at least began as a book tour in disguise. But he’s done well in the debates – and now he’s a front-runner, maybe the front-runner, in the GOP White House race.
So here’s our suggestion for 2016: Presidential Debate Island. Candidates live in huts on Teddy Roosevelt Island in the Potomac and vie in such competitions as the “Wolf Blitzer Twenty Questions Limbo” to win New Hampshire delegates and other valuable political prizes.