The 'increasingly intolerable' glut of GOP debates: 4 consequences

Republicans have already squared off nearly a dozen times — and they're only halfway through the debate season

How many times have we done this? The seemingly endless string of Republican debates may actually be hurting most of these presidential hopefuls, critics say.
(Image credit: MIKE NELSON/epa/Corbis)

With the Republican presidential candidates constantly slugging it out in a seemingly endless stream of televised showdowns, it seems likely that 2011 will be remembered as the "year of the debate," says Michael Calderone at The Huffington Post. The 11th major debate of the campaign season was held on Tuesday, Nov. 22, and there are nearly a dozen more GOP primary debates still to come. Plenty of people are watching, and the candidate forums appear to be having a major impact on the race. How? Here, four consequences of the "increasingly intolerable" glut of debates:

1. Gaffes are blown way out of proportion

The media has been "lapping up every big 'viral' moment, making the most of the gaffes and stumbles and eternally questing for the next meltdown," says Jason Linkins at The Huffington Post. As a result, the slip-ups are overshadowing the substance of many of the debates, making them matter more than they should. "The early debates helped introduce the candidates to the Republican primary electorate," says Byron York in the Washington Examiner, and the later ones will help undecided voters make up their minds. But many in the middle served little purpose — other than to provide another "occasion for a major gaffe or gotcha."

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

2. Serious candidates are taken less seriously

"We are essentially witnessing Republican presidential politics morph into a kind of right-wing reality TV series," says Ryan Lizza at The New Yorker. This popular elimination format has been good news for "'politainment' conservatives like Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich, and not so great for successful governors like Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman, and Rick Perry." Some veteran Republicans worry this is the wrong image to project when picking a candidate for the job of leading the free world, says Michael D. Shear in The New York Times. The cumulative effect of all the embarrassing moments, they fear, may be the weakening of "the party brand, especially in foreign policy and national security, where Republicans have typically dominated Democrats."

3."Retail" campaigning isn't what it used to be

"Once, it was the vaunted campaign machine, or the bulging bank accounts, or the number of key endorsements that defined who was up and who was down," says Ken Rudin at NPR. But this year, those elements of "retail" campaigning aren't all that critical. It really just seems to be the debates that matter. "Never before in a campaign cycle has the story line — the rise and fall of frontrunners, the fluctuations in the polls — been almost exclusively about what comes out of the debates."

4. Candidates are getting tired

This isn't easy for the Republicans, says Rupert Cornwell in Britain's Independent. Sure, they "get free exposure" from the nationally televised debates, but in each forum, they have to keep tacking to the right to win over conservative primary voters. As the debate season drags on, every appearance means another occasion to let something slip that will be "fodder for the Obama campaign" in the general election, when the challenge will be wooing moderates and independents. No wonder "some candidates have suggested they might skip a few, if only to conserve their energy."

To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us