Most Republican Presidential Candidates Nix YouTube Debate

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There were loads of news stories about the pioneering CNN/YouTube run debate several days ago which featured Democratic Presidential wannabies. Perhaps those stories scared away many of the Republicans who also are pining for Oval Office job:

Four days after the Democratic debate in Charleston, S.C,. more than 400 questions directed to the GOP presidential field have been uploaded on YouTube — targeted at Republicans scheduled to get their turn at videopopulism on Sept. 17.

But so far, only Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) have agreed to participate in the debate, co-hosted by Republican Party of Florida in St. Petersburg.

“Aside from those two candidates, we haven’t heard from anyone else,” said Sam Feist of CNN, who’s co-sponsoring the debate with the popular videosharing site.

Ron Paul will get some viewers. And McCain at this point needs all the viewers he can possibly reach. (Perhaps the exposure will even help him recruit a new campaign staff).

Rudolph Giuliani and Mitt Romney, both with dozens of videos on their YouTube channels, have not signed up. Neither have the rest of the Republican candidates, including Rep. Tom Tancredo (Colo.), whose “Tancredo Takes” on his YouTube channel draw hundreds of views. Sources familiar with the Giuliani campaign said he’s unlikely to participate. Kevin Madden, Romney’s spokesman, said the former Massachusetts governor has seven debate invitations covering a span of 11 days in September.

This is the best quote of all:

In an interview Wednesday with the Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader, Romney said he’s not a fan of the CNN/YouTube format. Referring to the video of a snowman asking the Democratic candidates about global warming, Romney quipped, “I think the presidency ought to be held at a higher level than having to answer questions from a snowman.”

But the snowman did elicit some answers.

Perhaps HE should be brought in by Congress to question Attorney General Alberto Gonzales!

There could be several factors — and consequences — at play here:

(1) This isn’t a happy time for Republicans. The candidates CLEARLY don’t want to participate not because of fears of snowballs –but hardballs. You can’t CONTROL questions from YouTubers.

(2) The typical YouTube participant would probably veer more to the left than most of the GOP candidates. Most likely that is why many of the candidates have turned thumbs-down on the debate.

(3) In the long run, not participating could be a mistake. Once again Republicans seem to be thinking only of their base. True, that’s what matters in primaries. But in the television age these primary debates help a national audience comprised of voters who might not be part of the base form impressions of candidates.

(4) The night of the debate the story will NOT be about how Republicans participated in this New Era debate, but how many of them stayed away from it. Stories will note how much more freewheeling and populist YouTubers’ questions are. And it will give the impression that the candidates had something to fear by common (if in some cases geeky) computer users getting to ask candidates questions. It’ll fit in with the image of a White House that is refusing to turn over information to Congress. And these images could mesh and hurt the party in the long run.

(5) YouTube is generational and some younger voters will interpret this as meaning the Republican candidates were just too old fashioned and old fogeyish to participate in (or “get”) the new media.

(6) Ron Paul will continue to pick up supporters. McCain still won’t have a prayer.


  1. I missed a lot of this while out today, but in response to Rambie’s comment directed to me: I have never said that the questions should reflect things that the candidates want to answer. But the fact is that during primary season, it’s more appropriate to ask the Dems questions about the particular thing that Democratic voters want to know, and vice versa for the GOP. My take on that may have been confusing because I was pointing out to Kim and Lynx that I felt that most of the questions did lean that way in the CNNYouTube debate- and that part of it doesn’t concern me (the frivolous questions were incredibly time wasting though).

    My feeling though is that when it comes to the GOP, the questions will STILL have a left of center leaning. Some people will feel that’s appropriate since anger at Bush has led many people to tilt that way anyway, but it still means we won’t have a discussion based on conservative philosophy and concerns which would be more appropriate for a GOP primary debate. You’ll have candidates trying to earn conservative cred on social issues, but on true fiscal conservatism or a return to the more realistic foreign policy of past GOP administrations, not so much.

  2. I missed a lot of this while out today, but in response to Rambie…

    I’m sorry CS, I meant to put SD instead and didn’t even notice… again, my apologies.

    I’ll agree with you that there were plenty of frivolous quests in that debate. Some of the topics are what I’d like them to discuss but the questions were not thought out well.

    That the problem with the other major debates from the past several election cycles. There are no tough questions that really challenge a candidates stance on the issue at question. Most of them are allowed to just squirm away without really having to give a definitive answer.

    I’m talking about both Left and Right here.

  3. CS said:
    “,,,when it comes to the GOP, the questions will STILL have a left of center leaning.”
    Why are questions about health care or how to resolve the Iraq war left of center?
    Don’t Republicans worry about how to acess health care or how the war will end?

    The questions relfect what’s on people’s minds
    The answeres are up to the candidtes, and they can answer according to whatever political leanints they espouse.
    I don;t understand why you focus on the questions and not the spectrum of possible answers.

  4. No problem, Rambie.

    I agree with you on the vapidity of this and almost all presidential debates. I’d love to see William F. Buckley moderate a GOP primary debate, and for serious liberal/progressives to nominate someone similar to moderate the Dems- and then the two of them co-moderate the general election debates after the primaries are over (could also include questioner to raise relevant issues and philosophical questions for Libertarians, Green party voters, or any other third party that gets on the ballot in enough states). And when I say that the questions come from a questioner who has a particular political/philosophical leaning, for the general election my point is that ALL of the candidates would then have to answer all of those questions- so that a Dem would be answering questions that are important to conserative/Republican leaning voters, and a GOP candidate would have to answer on issues important to liberal/Democratic leaning voters. Instead of pandering then, they’d have to explain how their policies could still be embraced by people from both sides of the political spectrum; and with the addition of third parties, we’d also hear answers to how the two mainstream parties would address the issues that have led people to consider the alternative parties/candidates.

    Some folks are also pushing for a bloggers debate, which might be interesting as well- though I imagine there would be lots of fighting over which bloggers get to participate.

  5. I have to agree with Doma- that left or right- certain issues should concern all of us and need to be addressed by both parties- I’m tired of watching theatrical performances with each party’s candidates playing to their perceived strengths, while ignoring their weaknesses. Whether or not you are an or a D, you should be worried about finding renewable energy sources, improving our schools, stabilizing social security,responding to the enormous challenges of terrorism and global warming, providing reasonable access to quality health care, and finding an exit strategy for Iraq.

    When you watch a Democratic debate-there’s little discussion beyond a prescription for diplomacy about the regional war that is now brewing in the ME. When you watch a Republican debate there’s no mention of the real problem of global warming. These problems will affect us no matter what our party affiiation is.
    I guess I’m comprehending the impetus behind Unity ’08, though still seeing pitfalls as well, unfortunately.

  6. I really didn’t get an answer to my queery as to why some questions (not the answers) are ‘left’ or ‘right’.

    Prescriptions for the perfect debate sound good, but that’s another subject and doesn’t answer why the questions themselves are seen as being partisan.
    Are there some things each party would rather not talk about in public?

    One important question that i would life to ask concerns earmarks and lobbyists, for example. Both parties are acting badly in this regard, so would this question be a ‘left’ or a ‘right’ question?
    What about Iraq? Is that ‘left’ or ‘right’?

  7. Are there some things each party would rather not talk about in public?

    I think that is absolutely the case. Certain issues are avoided altogether by one party or the other, while others are the issues on which they can easily score points with the voters. The base for each party has different primary concerns and a much different perspective on the problems of the country. This can easily be manipulated, and certain types of questioning allow one ‘side’ or the other to appeal to their base while also hooking in some independent voters and avoiding alienation of all but the hardcore base of the opponent’s party.

    There’re two factors at work: one is that certain groups of voters have more interest and concern on certain issues and have a particular mindset about how problems can be best addressed. So, a questioner who has a bias and wants to help one party or one candidate win a debate (and this could be either a conscious or an unconscious desire to help) will tend to stick to the “easy” issues for the party he/she favors and the harder ones for the opponent(s).

    The second factor is that when this hypothetical biased questioner poses certain questions to both parties or candidates, he can lob a soft one at his favored candidate and a much tougher version of the question to the other(s). Or, he might let the answers of his preferred candidate stand while challenging the others with tougher followup.

    My preference is that ALL questions should be tough and probing, with vigorous followup that is designed to highlight the different approaches of all of the candidates. If a candidate makes a proposal that sounds great on the surface, the questioner should play devil’s advocate; for example, if the candidate proposes a program to combat poverty, followup questions should force him/her to also divulge the expected costs of the program and defend the cost effectiveness of it. If a candidate talks about reducing taxes, he/she should be asked whether or not he/she would run up deficit spending in order to maintain tax cuts, if spending was deemed necessary as in our current state of war.

    It seems almost universal that these candidates are permitted to pretend that they have simple answers to very complex problems. We should ask them to defend their proposals, always playing devil’s advocate to their pat answers.

  8. I agree about playing devil’s advocate on tough issues, CS. Too often we are buying the image that political consultants are selling us. Usually it is an idealized, one with a consistent political viewpoint. But the real deal is usually much more complex and it is much more difficult to reconcile the perception with reality.

    I watched some of the Senate debates on Meet the Press for the ’06 election, and felt like Tim Russert did a fairly good job of asking hardball questions with follow-up. But, he only had to interview two candidates- unlike the 8-10 that are usually in front of us.

  9. I do think the quantity of candidates is an impediment to thorough questioning but I don’t know how that can be avoided. A series of one on one debates might be interesting but would be really cumbersome and time consuming (and the networks and most viewers would never go for it.)

  10. CS-

    Since you don’t give specific examples, it’s impossible to know what you have in mind.

    It seems to me, however, that much of what is perceived as ‘left’ or ‘right’ questions would be better handled by ‘left’ or ‘right’ answers than by sorting questions into political piles.

    I also think that you and Kritter are veering off into expecting too much from the format of group debates, and in the context of the primaries, to boot. In the brief seconds allotted for answers in the current debates, there really is no opportunity for in-depth and nuanced treatises on complex policy issues. Answers, by necessity, have to be confined to being indications of broad general principles and approaches, rather than detailed explanations. Even those can convey a lot, though.
    and can be conveyed either from a ‘left’ or ‘right’ perspective.

    Unless I see a proposal convincing me otherwise, then, I see no reason to worry about the bias in questions. The man in the street (or youTube) is concerned with a broad array of topics.

    It’s the answers!

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