Winning the Debates

Chris Matthews just said on MSNBC that “history shows if you want to be elected President, you have to win the debates.”

Guess he didn’t read the Daly Thoughts take on the matter.

Frankly, Matthews’ notion is rather silly anyway. “Winning” is subjective. The term is tossed about inaccurately, as if campaign debates were akin to college debate competitions in which having the most substantive answer actually means something.

Mostly, we look back on various debates and remember specific remarks or rebuttals — snapshots that confirm or upset the public’s preconceived notions about a particular man. People who remember President George H.W. Bush looking at his watch in 1992 probably don’t remember the topic under discussion, but remember a public perception that the first President Bush was disengaged from policy — a feeling the watch episode confirmed (unfairly, in my view). What was it that President Jimmy Carter said that caused Governor Ronald Reagan to say “There you go again?” Few recall, but it was the moment in which millions of voters grasped that Reagan wasn’t the sort of guy to intentionally start World War III.

A presidential or vice presidential candidate who shows up for a debate without doing his issues homework (a rare circumstance, but it has happened) can lose his party votes, but a candidate with the most informative and wise answers to policy questions — perversely — may not win any.

Voters often just like to “size up the guy.”

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