The GOP candidates who are signing onto the letter to the networks objecting to the debate formats are making a mistake. This can make them look weak and whiny, unable to handle the rough and tumble of politics. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with trying to change the formats, but the public complaining and public letter are the wrong way to do it. This calls for quiet negotiation.

I think that in part they’re trying to whip up the base, but that base doesn’t need to be whipped up now over an issue that will fade. I think the greater part of their reaction is primarily a combination of their natural uneasiness at being asked uncomfortable questions and their in-built distrust of the so-called liberal media. Through that lens any uncomfortable question naturally is read as a liberal attack. Add on to that the fact that some of the questions in the debate were ridiculously unsubstantive (journalists generally not being as smart as they think they are), and their frustration is anything but surprising.

But what matters when you’re frustrated is how you respond. And I think Obama spoke for many voters when he emphasized the weakness the candidates were demonstrating.

“Have you noticed that everyone of these candidates say, ‘Obama’s weak. Putin’s kicking sand in his face. When I talk to Putin, he’s going to straighten out,'” Obama said…

“Then it turns out they can’t handle a bunch of CNBC moderators at the debate. Let me tell you, if you can’t handle those guys, then I don’t think the Chinese and the Russians are going to be too worried about you,”

Fiorina, Christie, and Kasich have chosen the smarter, more presidential path, declining to sign the letter, and Christie at least going out of his way to urge his fellow party members to stop complaining. Whether they are sincere or calculating really doesn’t matter–this is one of those cases where pure political calculation and acting like a grownup lead to the same action.

But that action may be trumped, as the Donald has announced that he’ll negotiate with the networks on his own. I think his action is evidence of his narcissism, and I’d like to see the networks flatly refuse to negotiate one-on-one with candidates and generously offer to let him register his protest by not appearing at future debates. But looked at impersonally, Trump is signalling that he’s his own man, not dependent on anyone else and not subservient to his own party establishment. He’s taking the action of a leader, trying to set the agenda that everyone else will have to follow. And that’s what large numbers of voters want in a president, a kick-ass guy who takes no prisoners, shoots first, and doesn’t bother with questions later because by-god he already knows.

If the networks refuse to negotiate one-on-one there’s no cost to Trump. He spins that as evidence that the establishment fears him. It’s a small story that dies in a couple news cycles, but it’s not a damaging story. If he wins, he is the man who took on the political establishment and the liberal media elites and won. And that makes him appear strong and in-charge–in other words, presidential.

Category: Theater

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10 Responses to Whining and Posturing Their Way to the Leadership of the Free World

  1. Trumwill says:

    Heh. Maybe we should label these “point and counterpoint”…

    • jhanley says:

      I didn’t see yours until after I’d written mine. I hope it didn’t come off as critical of yours. I think your argument is right, and I think my argument doesn’t in any way rebut yours, but just takes a different tangent. I.e., I agree that trying to change the terms of the debate is legitimate; I just think the bulk of them having taken the wrong tactical choice toward that legitimate end.

      And I agree, from what I’ve read and seen about the debates, that the CNBC moderators were execrable, the ideal example of what passes for journalism these days. I think Trump’s response to the “cartoon campaign” question should have been, “Are you running a cartoon debate?”

      • trumwill says:

        I didn’t actually figure yours was a response to mind. It just kinda worked out serendipitous 🙂

        It does seem to me that some of the candidates are taking advantage of a legitimate issue to try to somewhat petty ends.

    • Mike Hunt Ray Rice says:

      So wait? Dr. Hanley has posting privileges here?!


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