(Special to Politic365 from DailyGrito)
The Commission on Presidential Debates recently announced that the four General election debates between President Obama and the Republican nominee will take place in Colorado, New York and Florida, with the vice presidential debate in Kentucky.
So far, the GOP hopefuls have endured eight debates. By the end of this year, many of them will have weathered an upwards of sixteen. In an era of extreme presidential elections stretching through the better part of two years, with more primary debates than ever before, is being a bad debater necessarily a disqualifier?
Remember back in September when Perry was demonstrating the coordination of a newborn giraffe? His bumbling attack on Mitt Romney showed us the limits of his debate skills:
“I think Americans just don’t know sometimes which Mitt Romney they’re dealing with,” Perry said. “Is it the Mitt Romney that was on the side of against the Second Amendment before he was for the Second Amendment? Was it — was before he was before the social programs, from the standpoint of he was for standing up for Roe v. Wade before he was against Roe v. Wade? He was for Race to the Top, he’s for Obamacare, and now he’s against it. I mean, we’ll wait until tomorrow and — and — and see which Mitt Romney we’re really talking to tonight.”
Attacks are made for debates – if you can deliver them. “The lines need to mesh with the candidate’s personality,” says Democratic consultant Maria Cardona, “And whoever writes them needs to know the candidate well enough to know if he or she can pull them off.”
Romney, by contrast, was fully prepared for the attack. He swatted it away with a packaged reply: “Nice try.”
Perry supporters are quick to tout the strength of his retail politics and one-on-one media appearances. “I think he’s improved,” says GOP Consultant and Perry supporter Matt Mackowiak. “Do I think he’ll ever be a fantastic debater? Probably not. But he doesn’t need to be fantastic. He needs to be able to drive an attack, drive a contrast and defend his record.”
In fairness to Perry, his chief rival Romney comes to these debates having honed his skills all through a 2008 dress rehearsal, and many candidates, including Barack Obama, have begun their candidacies as mediocre debaters refining their approach over time.
Most recently, Perry drew the ire of his fellow candidates when his campaign floated the possibility of skipping debates. Newt Gingrich, Pinky’s Brain and debater extraordinaire, felt the Texas Governor’s campaign priorities were askew. “I don’t see how somebody can say that they can’t debate Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul, but they’ll be ready to debate Barack Obama,” Gingrich snipped. “I think Governor Perry would find it an enormous mistake to not go to the debate and I think that, frankly, he’d look pretty silly.”
Gingrich poses a decent question: If Perry wins the nomination, will he be ready to debate Obama?
Perry certainly thinks so. “I’m not worried a bit that I’ll be able to stand on the stage with Barack Obama and draw a very bright line,” he said.
His supporters agree. “I don’t think the winner is going to be the most experienced debater,” Mackowiak says. “I think it’s going to be the person who can best drive a contrast.”
If Perry loses the nomination, it will be in large part due to his performance in those first few debates. If he wins, he’ll prove that these debates are more important to the political elite than they are to primary voters.