David Frum

04.04.13

Thanks, Newt, But We Should Have Fewer Debates

John W. Adkisson/Getty Images ()

The Daily Caller's Alex Pappas reports Newt Gingrich loved having a ton of debates:

Gingrich — while saying he very much supports “the general direction” of the review — said he disagrees with the notion that there were too many debates during the 2012 primary. He pointed out that Republicans in 2012 only debated one time more than then-Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton did during the 2008 Democratic primary.

“The point is to win the general election,” the former House Speaker said, arguing that the televised showdowns in the primary are important because they prepare the GOP nominee for the general election.

As for 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Gingrich added: “I think he was probably strengthened by having debated.”

Err, yes, of course Newt Gingrich loved the number of debates. As I wrote earlier this week, a presidential debate gives everyone on stage the impression of being a serious figure in the primary. And, no disrespect intended, but people like Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Gary Johnson weren't exactly contenders with the organizations to run a national campaign.

But up on that stage, the average viewer would have no clue that the campaigns and overall seriousness of Bachmann and Romney were more than a little distinct.

Again, fewer debates with fewer candidates in the early stage of the campaign is a must for the GOP. There is no reason we need more than 3 or 4 debates prior to the first primary.

And... was Romney really strengthened by having debated? Perhaps, but if so, not enough to overcome the problems of a lengthened pre-primary process.

The greatest damage to the GOP field was that candidates like Romney had to out-conservative an already conservative field. When it came time to appeal to the moderate electorate of the country, we saw how that turned out.