Top Romney adviser: Primary debate proliferation ‘silly and dumb’

Stuart Stevens, the former top adviser to Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign, says in a new op-ed that the proliferation of primary debates in presidential campaigns is "silly and dumb and serves no public good."

Writing for the Daily Beast, Stevens says he agrees with the Republican National Committee's call for fewer debates. The RNC made the argument in a recently announced series of proposals to help the party get back on track.

"We pick a president with three general-election debates, but it takes 20 debates to understand that maybe Ron Paul wants to blow up the Federal Reserve?" Stevens says. "Other important national questions are decided more expediently: it only takes 12 shows for The Bachelorette and The Bachelor to pick a mate."

(Side note: The Bachelor franchise might not be the best comparison, as the relationships spawned have a terrible track record.)

Here's more of Stevens's argument:

The RNC report recommends cutting the number of debates in half and shortening the debating season. That’s a good start. But I think we should go further. To improve the quality of the debates and eradicate the commercial toxicity tainting the events, news organizations should get out of the business of sponsoring debates.

Let’s don’t kid ourselves. These “debates” have become phony entertainment spectacles not serious news events.

Here’s how Wolf Blitzer touted the Republican primary debate in September 2011, hosted by the Tea Party and CNN:

“Tonight, eight candidates, one stage, one chance to take part in a groundbreaking debate. The Tea Party support and the Republican nomination, on the line right now.”

This is how World Wide Wrestling is promoted. The only thing accurate about this breathless hype is that, yes, there was one stage. But there wasn’t “one chance” (for crying out loud, there were three debates in less than three weeks), it wasn’t remotely “groundbreaking” and every fifth grader watching knew that neither Tea Party support nor Republican nomination weren’t remotely on the line.

Don’t blame Wolf Blitzer, who is one of the more serious journalists on the air. Blame the system that forces Blitzer into this role. In a different era, it might not have mattered if CBS or NBC sponsored a debate. But in today’s hyper competitive economic environment, with every network and cable news channel fighting hand-to-hand for each eyeball, the pressure to tart and hype is irresistible.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.



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Aaron Blake · March 28, 2013