President Bush was no fan of Monday's CNN/YouTube debate. According to Press Secretary Tony Snow, "I don't think [he watched]. I don't think he's big on YouTube debates." Now it appears the men who are looking to succeed him feel the same way, raising questions about whether the GOP's YouTube debate set for September 17 will even happen.
According to the Manchester Union Leader, Governor Mitt Romney disliked the debate's format which featured everyday Americans grilling the Democratic candidates in sometimes unorthodox fashions. "I think the presidency ought to be held at a higher level than having to answer questions from a snowman," said Romney in an interview with the Union Leader.
Later in the day, news from the camp of fellow front-runner Rudy Giuliani further clouded the status of the debate. A Giuliani campaign source told Marc Ambinder that the former mayor of New York was likely to drop out of the debate due to "unspecified scheduling conflicts."
Right now, only two Republican candidates have officially agreed to participate in the debate according to the Washington Post: the struggling Sen. John McCain and Rep. Ron Paul, the internet darling with scant hope of winning the nomination.
Many fellow Republicans, however, seem quite content with this lack of participation and the potential that the YouTube debate might be canceled.
Hugh Hewitt mocks the entire premise of the YouTube debate and advocates avoiding a night of attack questions filtered through CNN's alleged left-wing bias:
"The YouTube debate was a silly, and at times absurd exercise in giving air time to many idiots separated by an occasional responsible speaker, and the question selection by CNN demonstrated a huge left-wing bias which will inevitably appear in any subsequent YouTube debate ... If the GOP candidates agree to this format, expect a series of cheap shots about all of the top tier candidates. Patrick [Ruffini] worries that the Republicans will appear behind the times if they take a pass. Perhaps, but if that means skipping a no win set-up where MSM agenda journalists work for weeks to put a video shiv into one or more of the Big Three, I am for it."
Over at Captain's Quarters, Ed Morrissey further questions the validity of the YouTube format:
"Why should the Republicans further endorse this practice [of encouraged inanity and childishness in a forum where serious matters should have been taken seriously]? It won't stop by blithely jumping into the next debate. Someone will have to point out that the emperor has no clothes, and that won't happen if the GOP panders to YouTube and give the same people another chance to stage another round of Monty Hall forums rather than town hall forums ... We don't have to embrace talking snowmen in order to embrace the Internet."
BitsBlog doesn't see any political gain to be had from the candidates opening themselves up to hostile questions:
"The ratings for the Democrats on CNN/YouTube were embarrassingly low, even at the outset... and it didn't help that the program itself was a yawner ... There is no reason to suggest that the Republicans are going to fare any better trying the same trick. Add to that, the history of CNN is one of distinct Democrat party bias, and one can hardly blame the Republicans for dropping this turkey. There's nothing to gain, and lots to lose. There's no point in bothering with it."
Others on the right, however, are not so sure the Republicans should abandon the debate. While there seems to be a consensus that the YouTube debate was a frivolous exercise, a number of commentators are questioning how a Republican disappearing act might reflect on the candidates.
As Ana Marie Cox put it, writing on Time.com: "The Republicans' sudden aversion has political observers wondering whether abandoning an opportunity to participate in the fledging format shows a potentially costly reluctance to engage with voters or is simply an exercise in prudent message management."
Posting at Hot Air, Allah Pundit envisions a "PR disaster in the making" if the candidates abandon the debate. In turn, he argues the candidates have much to gain if Giuliani opts out which might just force Giuliani to change his mind and attend:
If the frontrunner walks, the rest have every incentive to attend and then bludgeon Rudy with the same no-guts-no-fun talking points the Democrats have on ice. Fred in particular would want to be there as it's set for three weeks after he's supposed to declare and he needs all the free exposure he can get. His persona would work well in that forum too. McCain will be there, I assure you. In fact, having the rest of the field walk away would be his dream come true, as it would give him a stage to himself to do his maverick shtick and resuscitate his candidacy. Given all the obvious advantages to the others, Rudy will be there too. He'll have no choice.
Other pundits don't care as much about the political fallout of avoiding the debate as they do about the unflattering picture it would present.
Patrick Ruffini wonders about the ramifications for a party that is already struggling with incorporating the rise of the internet into its campaign strategies:
"I would now expect numerous candidates to bail, just like they did at Ames, citing the lack of a frontrunner. 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."
"There would be something unseemly about Republicans ducking this debate - sort of like being too frightened to walk into a dark room full of treasure where you've been told a vicious beast is ready to pounce and eat you ... Stay away from the debate and the American people will judge you cowards. The press will see to that. Stand up like men, take your lumps, give back as good as you get, don't fear the unknown, and move forward."
Pierre Legrand also doesn't mince words:
"Romney says he won't look Presidential, Rudy says he is undecided...cowards. We are well and truly on our way to a serious ass kicking in 08 if this is the quality of our field. They are afraid of the questions that might come at them from YouTubers? Afraid to face the Public? Oh my. Are they embarrassed by Republican policies? Say it ain't so. Now more then ever we need folks at the head of the Republican Party that are not afraid to defend policies like Iraq and the War Against Islamic Totalitarianism. This is not the time to run away from the American People."
On the other end of the political spectrum, the reaction was to speculate about why it was the GOP might be getting cold feet.
Ana Marie Cox floated a theory that Fox News was pressuring the candidates to stay away before dismissing it. She was told, however, "that if, say, Fox were hosting the YouTube debate, candidates would not feel as skeptical about the format."
Josh Marshall posted two theories supplied to him by his readers. The first comes on the heels of videos posted by an anti-Giuliani group of New York City firemen:
"You realize why Rudy doesn't like the YouTube debate format, right? He doesn't want the NY fire fighter's to get a clean shot at him on national TV."
The other reader contends it has more to do with the differences in the temperament of the two bases:
"As far as issues like illegal immigration and "coercive interrogation techniques" go, how does one ask questions like this in a Youtube format in an amusing way? The differences between the GOP base and the political mainstream can seem less extreme when asked by someone like Wolf Blitzer, but if presented from the standard GOP rank-and-file member of the base, it seemed like a great way to show how unhinged the GOP has become on some of these issues."
Andrew Sullivan echoes a sentiment drifting through both the left and right: "For my part, the current old white men running for the GOP already seem from some other planet. Ducking YouTube after the Dems did so well will look like a party uncomfortable with the culture and uncomfortable with democracy. But then, we kind of knew that already, I guess, didn't we?"
Michael Bassik at TechPresident noted that "YouTube actually attracts more Republicans than Democrats. Specifically, there are 3.3 million self-identified Republicans on the user-generated video site versus 3.1 million Democrats. (An addition 5 million consider themselves independent.)"
Meanwhile, ABC News is going to include citizen videos in its upcoming debates, according to Jeff Jarvis.... "and, one-upping CNN, they're going to enable voters to also have a voice (if not a vote) in what is selected and shown."