POLITICS
01/24/2012 05:44 pm ET

John McCain: Republican Debates Are 'Damaging' To GOP Candidates

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is not a fan of the extensive number of GOP debates that have shaped the race for the Republican presidential nomination to date.

He expressed serious concerns on Capitol Hill Tuesday, claiming the debates have taken on an "inordinate influence" that was absent in 2008. "I think it's very harmful to Republicans, because instead of the candidates presenting their views and their policies and their proposals, it's all gotcha," he said, according to USA Today. "And disapproval ratings go up when they spend an hour or two insulting each other. So I think it's very damaging."

There have been 18 debates so far, with the next one airing on CNN on Thursday, just 48 hours after the preceding debate, shown on NBC.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was reportedly considering skipping NBC's Florida debate but decided against it. One of his strategists, Stuart Stevens, complained that there had been too many of them. "We have to bring some order to it," he said. "It's kind of like a cruise that's gone on too long."

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, on the other hand, seems to be reveling in the opportunity to showcase his strong debate skills. "There is never enough debates," said Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond, who questioned why any candidate would not want to partake. "You'd have to question how well they'd do on a debate stage with President Obama," he said.

It's undeniable that the debates have shaped the race, for better or worse. Texas Gov. Rick Perry's "Oops" moment in November's CNBC debate -- which came after a number of unflattering televised moments -- is credited by some with killing his chances for the presidential nod.

Gingrich's strong debate performance ahead of the South Carolina primary likely played a role in his decisive victory. Two-thirds of primary voters said the GOP debates played an important factor in their decision, according to CBC News exit polls.

McCain, who endorsed Romney, his former rival in the 2008 presidential race, in early January, is planning on stumping for him in Florida ahead of the Jan. 31 primary.

His advice to Romney for the next debate? "He's got to stay on offense, he can't play defense," he said. But it's unclear is whether McCain will be watching. "I have a tendency to nod off," he joked.

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