Robert Bluey

The GOP’s general unwillingness to engage fully online -- in terms of staffing and candidate activity -- helps explain why Republicans trail Democrats in everything from online fundraising to “friends” on social networks such as MySpace and Facebook. Yes, Romney boasts 231 YouTube videos, and Ron Paul has nearly 50,000 MySpace supporters. But these are exceptions to the basic rule that Republican politicos are woefully behind their Democratic counterparts in exploiting the possibilities of Internet-based politicking.

Bailing on the YouTube debate would be even more foolish than the Democrats’ refusal to participate in a debate hosted by Fox News. The immaturity of the left-wing blogosphere led to that debate’s demise, but the right-wing blogosphere is having the exact opposite reaction. Conservative bloggers want the GOP candidates to participate.

“This is a big mistake,” wrote Patrick Ruffini, the former Republican National Committee e-campaign director and a former adviser to presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani. “The Democrats are afraid to answer questions from Big Bad Fox News Anchors, and the Republicans are afraid to answer questions from regular people. Which is worse?”

Ruffini’s frustration led him to launch a petition to save the debate, which was instantly endorsed by the right’s most tech-savvy bloggers. Meanwhile, popular conservative blogger Michelle Malkin, no fan of YouTube herself, put it bluntly: “The CNN/YouTube Democrat debate was a circus. I said so. But Republicans shouldn’t sit out their turn. And conservatives shouldn’t abandon YouTube to the moonbats and jihadists. The GOP candidates should see it as an opportunity.”

This is a huge opportunity for Republicans, but they don’t seem to realize it. It’s no wonder young people say they are “profoundly alienated from the Republican party and its perceived values,” as a survey from Democracy Corps and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner revealed.

If candidates aren’t even willing to talk to younger Americans via their preferred means of communication, how on earth will they change that negative perception?

Robert Bluey

Robert B. Bluey is director of the Center for Media & Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation and maintains a blog at