Thursday, May 19, 2011

Passing The Smell Test

Daniel Henniger worries about Obama's Digital-Age Advantage:

The danger of a presidential campaign "heating up" in May 2011, 18 months before the election, is that any Republican candidate will be driven into the ground by the always-on-everywhere nature of modern politics. Indeed, one may wonder if David Plouffe, the architect of Barack Obama's ground-breaking 2007-08 Web-centered campaign, saw early on that no Republican could survive for 18 months under pressure from new media. With Mr. Obama's hyperpartisan "budget" speech at George Washington University, Mr. Plouffe forced a quick start on the presidential campaign. Ask Paul Ryan, who suddenly found himself sucked into the world of campaign-style politics, like the programmer in "Tron."

The Obama Web campaign of 2008 was an eon ago. Just as Moore's Law holds that transistorized computing power doubles every two years, there appears to be a Moore's law of politics, doubling the forces in play around presidential elections. Web sites, news aggregators, blogs, TV, radio, Facebook, Twitter, email, videos, smartphones, apps, tablets—it's all vastly more and more powerful than it was three years ago.

The proponents of new media are correct that this opens the political process; more people get to input their opinions. But it's a voracious politics. Political users constantly log into Twitter accounts and mouse-click for anything "new" about the candidates. This is binge politicking.

Criticism is good. Arguably, Web criticism and truth-seeking helped end the Trump candidacy. It could do the same to the infinitely variable Gingrich and Romney campaigns.

But in politics, Web opinion is relentlessly negative; it's a process of subtraction. It diminishes the candidates. Familiarity here really does breed contempt.

This is a very real danger for all the prospective GOP candidates for 2012. The pressure on the potential candidates to declare their intentions and make an impact with primary voters so early on leaves them exposed to public scrutiny and criticism for many months before the real campaign even begins. As Henniger notes, there can be value in this in weeding out candidates who don't belong, but there is also a risk that the more that voters learn about candidates and the more they see of them in campaign mode, the less they will like them.

Here's how I see this possibly playing for some of those with their hats in the ring and some who may yet make a toss.

Romney: No impact one way or another. I gotta think that by now the vast majority of Republicans have made their mind up about Romney. More exposure isn't likely to hurt him, but I also don't see it helping much either. Unless I'm badly misreading the tea leaves, I see Romney as a dead man walking and it's only a matter of time before he keels over.

Ryan/Christie: These are probably the two candidates not currently in the race that GOP faithful most strongly pine for. They're also the two whose luster could potentially be lost in a lengthy primary campaign. Of the two, Christie probably has the furthest to fall since his popularity is more based on style than substance.

Daniels/Pawlenty: These are the two guys who actually could benefit from a prolonged period in the limelight. Neither has serious issues from their past that they must overcome--it's ridiculous to compare Pawlenty's support for a cap and trade proposal that never came to pass with Romney leading the way on the health care overhaul in Massachusetts. The biggest problem for both of them is that they're still largely unknown outside of their own states. One thing that I do know about Pawlenty is that despite claims that he lacks charisma and personality, there is a lot to like about him. It might not be the kind of thing that blows you away at first sight, but grows slowly over time.

As George Costanza explained in the Seinfeld episode The Chicken Roaster:

George: What's the difference? You know they way I work, I'm like a commercial jingle. First it's a little irritating, then you hear it a few times, you hum it in the shower, by the third date it's "By Mennen!".