Despite my admittedly snarktastic coverage of this week’s YouTube debate, I was mildly intrigued by the prospect of the GOP version. Would they get videos from troops in Iraq? Maybe a pregnant woman asking about abortion? There would be opportunities for theater and for real people, if also for more hillbillies and singing snowmen. Whatevs. As Joe suggested earlier in this week, it looks like the whole thing is falling apart.
I talked to people from a few of the campaigns today and they say that the movement to abandon the format is real. Romney’s mocked the event outright, Giuliani’s people told Ambinder that “scheduling” was an issue (insert Iraq Study Group joke here) but I’ve heard from others that many in the GOP feel that the deck in a YouTube debate would be somehow stacked against the candidates. Are they dodging “real” Americans in favor for a more tightly scripted event? Payback for the Dems skipping Fox in some weird televisual karmic sense? (OR is Fox pressuring them to do so? Hmmm.) I’d be wary about the event if I were a candidate myself, but if they do manage to kill the thing, I’ll be disappointed.
Is it tactically stupid? Not sure. I think it in general reinforces the idea that the Republicans are ones who will have to positively make a case for themselves in 2008 — and that they’re the ones the most frightened of facing the public. Like some former White House counsels I could name. But can you make an oppo ad out of the issue? Probably not.
UPDATE: Patrick Ruffini takes a dimmer view as to what it means for the field at large:
This is a big mistake. 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?
It’s stuff like this that will set the GOP back an election cycle or more on the Internet. No matter the snazzy Web features and YouTube videos they may put up, if they’re fundamentally uncomfortable with the idea of interacting with real people online, what’s the point?
Having spent the better part of a decade working at the intersection of politics and the Web, I can’t help but feel of a deep, deep sense of dismay that we’re missing something so basic. This is EXACTLY why I am afraid that we will be outraised by $100 million or more in 2008.
Yes, some of the questions on Monday were trivial. Yes, they were partisan. (I expect many of the 9/17 questioners to be partisan Republicans.) Yes, they were messy. But so is democracy. And the fact that some place so much faith in the broken mainstream media over a benign format like this one says a lot about the difficult straits the Republicans are in right now.
Perhaps the rest of the field will prove me wrong.