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    Minimum required debating smoothness

    Minimum required debating smoothness

    Rick Perry is pushing back against criticism of his debate performances, particularly the Florida debate, by arguing that we should not elect the smoothest debater:

    “As conservatives we know that values and vision matter. It’s not who is the slickest candidate or the smoothest debater that we need to elect. We need to elect the candidate with the best record and the best vision for this country,” he said at a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida. “The current occupant of the White House can sure talk a good game, but he doesn’t deliver.”

    That’s true but only to a point.  We don’t need the smoothest debater, but we do need someone with the minimum required debating smoothness.

    Like it or not, in September and October 2012 there are going to be debates which will be watched by an enormous percentage of the electorate, and the mainstream media will be unforgiving of mistakes by the Republican nominee.  A miserable performance, on par with the one Perry had Thursday night, would be a disaster.

    By contrast, strong debate performances against Obama, holding Obama accountable in front of tens of millions of people, exposing his failures for what they are, could seal the deal.  The mainstream media will not perform that task for us, so our nominee needs to do it.  Perry has not shown so far that he is capable of that; it’s not smoothness, its preparation and execution.

    Also, the criticism of Perry was not only his smoothness, but the words he used.  His “I don’t think you have a heart” comment was, in many ways, our worst nightmare; it’s the old “compassionate conservative” argument, as if the modifier was needed.

    I still have an open mind about Perry.  I hope he can show us that there is a there there.  But the “smoothness” argument is just a dodge.


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    Some may be missing the good professor’s point perhaps. When we project ahead to the fall TV debates, if the GOP nominee comes across like, say, Kim Delaney at the National Constitution Center awards ceremony on Thursday, he or she is a sure loser regardless of the merits or substance of the issues and regardless of whether the readers of this blog feel(perhaps rightly so) that is too superficial. The broader, non-ideological electorate does not read political blogs or watch the cable news shows–it generally prefers Dancing with the Stars, Storage Wars, and other fare. In the fall debates, the winning candidate must be able to articulate effectively. The voters have also proven at least three times in recent election cycles that they will vote for a smooth-talking con man for president. That is the environment that currently exists. We know that Obama doesn’t like to work too hard (preferring White House parties, golf, fundraisers, etc.), but you can be sure that he will be uber-prepared for the debates. As I pointed out on my blog, he seems like a number of my law school colleagues who avoided most of the reading and seldom showed up for class but had an amazing skill for cramming for the final exam and getting As in their coursework. As a practical matter, the eventual GOP nominee must have both substance and communication skills.

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