Those who consider Karl Rove the prince of darkness probably won't be especially open-minded to his analysis of the Republican presidential debates, and how they've spun out of control for the GOP contenders.
Nevertheless, this passage (you'll need to subscribe to read the whole thing, but I'm excerpting it) is right on the money:
What we're watching are not really debates. They are seven- or eight-person news conferences. Their choppy nature makes cogent argument difficult and thoughtful policy discussion almost nonexistent. There's a premium placed on memorable sound bites and snappy comebacks. Those are the clips that are endlessly replayed.
Debates transfer power to the media, draining it from the campaigns. Moderators and their news organizations — through questions they frame or select — have more impact than candidates on what's covered and discussed. Because each debate is a lavish feast of comments and confrontations, the media also decide what aspects are most worthy of post-debate coverage.
Of course, Rove is part of that media now, as a Fox News commentator and Wall Street Journal columnist. But he's also a political operative raising money to further the interests of Republicans, and he can clearly see the debates have become a double-edged sword — offering exposure, yes, but also yielding the kind of moments that transform candidates into punchlines.
Watching tonight's debate on Fox News Channel (brought to you by Lowe's! Kidding — but wouldn't that be great?), I can't help but keep thinking the debate is a better showcase for Fox's talent than the candidates. That's because the questions invariably overshadow the answers, which are either evasive if the questions are tough or — if the responses contain any real meat — get cut off by a "ding" as soon as they start to get interesting.
Rove certainly has the ear of Republicans, and one wonders what that might mean down the road.
As for Democrats relishing the bedlam, they ought to pay attention too. Because whatever happens in 2012, they're going to face the same predicament five years from now.