The End of the Debates and the Romney Campaign Ahead

Hugh Hewitt

2/23/2012 9:32:00 AM - Hugh Hewitt

Like most pundits, I dragged myself along through most of the death march of the 20+ debates. Last night's was an exception. After seeing excerpts of the first hour through the last hour of my radio show, I was obliged to dash to another event and thus could only judge the result through the anlayses offered by others.

These, however, were near uniform. Whether one checked Michael Barone, Guy Benson, Mark Halperin, the National Review symposium or any of the other score or so of pundits-who-matter-and-who-are-also-reasonably-objective, Mitt Romney was the night's big winner because Rick Santorum was the night's big loser. The last in the long line of not-Romneys had a very rough night even as votes are being cast via absentees in both Arizona and Michigan.

Checking a debate result against so many analysts is a lot like averaging the polls as is done at Real Clear Politics so well. An outlier --"Ron Paul dominated!"-- gets tossed and the result is clear.

So Romney won and won big if the collection of professionals is to be believed. That probably means Romney's rise in Michigan will continue and his triumph in Arizona made more certain, and with those two results, he spring boards into Super Tuesday, does well there and the result of a Romney nomination, almost inevitable since the Florida vote, becomes a widely acknowldeged fact.

The debates have been a great disappointment, as they might have served the country very well in understanding the extraordinarny choice that will arrive before it in the fall. What the legion of MSMers did who manned the moderator/panelist posts was to generally protect President Obama from debate one forward while focusing on starting or enlarging fights between the GOP nominees who mostly agree on the issues. Only rarely did a question do to this big issue --Why fire Obama?-- when it should have been the central and recurring question.

This, by the way, could have happened with the MSM' bias on full display and viewers wouldn't have midned:

"Obama got bin laden. Doesn't he deserve a second term?"

"Obama saved GM. Souldn't he get a second term?"

"Obama capped the Gulf spill well. Shouldn't he get a second term."

Instead, incredibly, we got extended sideshows, including yet another contraception question last night, as though John King's producers simply do not understand it isn't about contraception. (Of course they do know that, but they love to indulge their condescension about the issue and their hope that it drives way voters from the GOP.)

Yesterday the Atlantic's able Conor Friedersdorf penned a lenghty response to my recurring complaint about the decision of the GOP to cede control of these nearly two-dozen jousts to the MSM. Read it now if the aftermath of what is probably the last debate.

Before I answer it specifically, please read my eight minute interview of Rick Santorum from Tuesday's show, the transcript of which is here. In less than ten minutes we cover campaign finance and Obama's blow-up of the old system despite his promise not to do so in 2008, the Ex-Im bank debate, the senator's proposed support of the manufacturing sector via the tax code, and the slaughter in Syria. Lots of people could conduct such an interview, and a lot of conservative broadcasters could do so in their sleep while maintaining fairness towards all the candidates and avoiding the absurd shoals on which the MSM has so often beached in the past many months of these carnivals.

A two hour debate moderated by any of the following would be deeply interesting and deeply informative: Rush, Sean, Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham, Bill Bennett, Michael Medved, Mike Gallagher or Dennis Prager.

Conor argues that candidates "would much rather field predictable questions from conventional mainstream media reporters than whatever unpredictable, ethically thorny hypothetical Dennis Prager might dream up." That just isn't true since the candidates go on Dennis' show just as they come on mine and many of the others where they will be treated fairly even if asked a surpising question or two or ten. The candidates didn't veto the panelists for the televised debates, the networks pushed forward their regklars because they are trying to cement in ratings when in fact they are destorying their ratings in the center-right world by proving time after time that their hosts/producers/execs are hostile to the GOP and eager to defend Obama.

Beyond conservative broadcast journalists there are a score of center-right columnists and talking heads who would make marvelous moderators --Jonah Goldberg, Rich Lowry, Fred Barnes, Mary Katharine Ham, Michale Barone, Byron York, Mark Steyn, Michelle Malkin, etc -- but none appeared in the course of over twenty debates. How absurd.

What would have been useful, at least once, was a full debate devoted to the damage done to the country by the president. The GOP electorate wants to know which of the candidates would best express the collective, utter disdain for the president's hard left lurch, a lurch so comprehensive that it is difficult to name all the issues on which it could be explored, from Obamacare and the stimulus to the recent recess appointments and the attack on the Catholic Church. The GOP electorate would have been served by moderators and panelists who shared their deeply critical view of the president to see which of the candidates would have best understood and amplified that critique, using creative language and arguments to demonstrate an ability to carry the campaign to the terrain in which the center-right wants to fight it --the future of America.

The debates seem to have left Romney the nominee, and probably his best answer last night --which turned yet another absurd contraception question into the platform on which to assail the president's attack on religious conscience and especially the Catholic Church-- sealed the deal for many voters wondering who would make the best opponent.

But Obama should have been through the wringer by now, and any fair set of debates would have fully unveiled the deep unease at least half of the country has with his often radical and sometimes simply incoherent policies and trial balloons. 300 nukes, really? Closing Gitmo unilaterally in term two? Intervening in Libya but not Syria, why? Recess appointments of these jobs and not others? Solyndra, Fast and Furious, Gibson Guitars, the NLRB and EPA?

The debate season ended with the GOP coffers emptier than they were, the candidates a bit bloodier than might have happened had these been serious exercises, but with the strongest general election candidate in the lead and the likely nominee. It will now be the job of talk radio to do what MSM has refused, which is to provide platforms for the Romney (or whomever is the nominee) to make the case that MSM kept in the basement throughout six months of their style of "journalism."

And that we will do. Whether the MSM knows it or not, they drove half the country even further away from any sort of trust in their product. Trust is earned, and they refused to even try to earn it.