Opinion: A GOP edge in the YouTube debates


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The CNN/YouTube debate unquestionably added an invigorating new element to the rules of engagement in U.S. politics.

After Monday night’s precedent-setting format -- and especially in light of some of the exchanges it sparked -- it’s hard to imagine future faceoffs will feature a traditionally staid panel of journalists running the show. And the candidates who do best presumably will be the ones who not only display a command of policy, but provide appropriately human responses to questions that are more emotionally charged when they come via homemade videos.


All that said, we imagine that in the backrooms of the GOP presidential campaigns today, aides are hard at it carefully analyzing what the Democrats experienced. Their aim will be to figure out ways to best prep their bosses to anticipate what’s coming and how best to respond when the Republican CNN/YouTune debate takes place Sept. 17.

We got a preview of how this might work when the Republicans gathered June 5 on the same stage the Democrats had occupied two days earlier in New Hampshire. ...

... CNN’s Wolf Blitzer had taken the Democrats by surprise by asking the candidates to introduce themselves with a pithy sentence.

The responses, with one exception, ranged from the prosiac (‘I’m John Edwards’) to the only-slightly-less prosiac (‘I’m Bill Richardson, the proud governor of the state of New Mexico’). The exception was, who else, Mike Gravel, who intoned: ‘Like Lee Iacooca said, ‘I’m back from the past, a real leader.’ My name is Mike Gravel, and I’m running for president of the United States for real.’

The Republicans, when they met, had the advantage of knowing Blitzer’s gambit was coming. And their answers, for the most part, obviously were the products of some serious strategizing (as well as ones that ignored the one-sentence edict). They included:

‘I’m John McCain. I’ve had the honor of serving my country all of my life.’

‘My name is Thompson, Tommy. I’m the candidate, not the actor.’

‘I’m Rudy Giuliani. I agree with the motto of your state, ‘Live free or die.’ And I think it would be a pretty good one for our time.’


Here’s the one that most tickled the partisan audience: ‘I’m Mike Huckabee. For 10 1/2 years, I was governor of Arkansas. I’m from the small town of Hope. You may have heard of it. All I ask you is, give us one more chance.’

It is the nature of politicians to abhor unpredictability and to look for ways to control whatever venue they find themselves a part of. And it will be interesting to see how successfully the YouTube questioners and CNN producers can keep them guessing.

-- Don Frederick