So it looks like we’re going to have a contest for the Republican nomination for President. Good.
I believe that this qualifies as my first official opinion on the 2012 primary race, so here it is: An extended primary is good thing for the GOP.
I know . . . that’s not the conventional wisdom, which is that the sooner there is a nominee, the sooner he can pivot to attacking the candidate of the other party. That “rule,” if it is one, however, does not apply to a contest to pick the nominee to challenge a sitting president beloved by the media.
Sitting presidents, even Republicans, are oxygen thieves. They suck vast quantities of the media’s limited air with their every move. Every trip he takes, every meaningless decision he makes, even his innocuous words after minor earthquakes, all of is reported by the media every day. The incumbent advantage largely reduces to the ability to maintain free media exposure. That truism is doubly so when the incumbent is a liberal Democrat, as is the case today.
The only exception to that rule is an electoral event. Because for as long as the eventual GOP nominee is still in doubt, that will be the lead story. Instead of the media breathlessly reporting the President’s remarks to the American Association of People Like Him, which were identical to what he said the day before to the Concerned Citizens for People Concerned About Important Things, they will exhaustively cover the latest Gingrich gaffe or Romney’s recent rout. Sure it won’t be pretty news coverage, but as they say in Hollywood, “There’s no such thing as bad press, so long as they spell the name right.” And when they’re doing that, they’re not covering the President’s unimportant news item. That’s big.
Remember 1996? CW is that Bob Dole, by accepting public funding was forced to go dark from the time of the last contested primary in the spring until the convention in late summer. The truth is that, even with infinite funding, he couldn’t have broken through President Clinton’s incumbent media advantage. The same will happen again in 2012 the moment the Republican nominee is known.
But if the primary contest continues for weeks or months, that’s weeks and months that President Obama is being hounded by two or more attack dogs, each of whom gets free air time to bark–film at eleven. You can’t buy that kind of exposure against a sitting president–especially a Democratic President.
So bring it on. Besides, as Seth Leibsohn notes,
“The party deserves this race as it is cast now, and if it goes on a bit longer, so much the better. We have the worst foreign- and defense- and domestic-policy president in recent memory and we should not rush into picking our best bet against him.”
Bring it on and pass the popcorn.