On Those Town Halls...
by Josh Orton, Sat Jun 14, 2008 at 08:32:46 AM EDT
Last week, I asked whether the concept of a long series of loosely-moderated townhalls between Obama and McCain would work.
The response in the comments was mixed.
Some thought the plan would benefit Obama:
...Obama should jump at it; he should have nothing to fear. While McCain knows how to charm an audience, I don't believe he can match Obama in articulating policies. --corph
The more chances Obama gets to publicly undress McCain, the better. --nwgates
Some thought it would benefit the national political debate:
I think it's a great idea. For one thing, it allows both candidates to lay out their views without 'gotcha' questions, no time limits, and really allow them to expand on their answers. I really hope this comes to pass -- the one thing this country needs is genuine debate on the issues, not a continuation of the petty gotcha-game and soundbites. --VAAlex
But many more people thought McCain's proposal would largely benefit...McCain:
I think that this would serve primarily to give McCain free publicity, which is what his financially-challenged campaign needs. I'm inclined to think that it's not a good idea, certainly not at this early stage. Let us define him first, then we'll talk. --rfahey22
For audience reasons, McCain has more to gain from holding as many joint appearances as possible. --JoeFelice
McCain is old school politics and is only proposing this because he needs to. The candidate running behind always challenges the front runner, Clinton did it and McCain is following the same old pattern. If I felt that McCain had a shred of sincerity behind this I'd entertain the idea but he doesn't. --montana36
I'm inclined to agree with the last notion - that ultimately, this series benefits McCain. There's an inequity of resources between the candidates, and in that context the series benefits the candidate with the tighter budget. In the last couple cycles, we've seen just a few debates between the two candidates - and it's likely we'll see even more this cycle. But McCain's campaign is starting to use this proposal as a bludgeon, so it's good to see this statement from Plouffe:
Barack Obama offered to meet John McCain at five joint appearances between now and Election Day -- the three traditional debates plus a joint town hall on the economy in July and an in-depth debate on foreign policy in August. That package of five engagements would have been the most of any Presidential campaign in the modern era -- offering a broad range of formats -- and representing a historic commitment to openness and transparency.
It's disappointing that Senator McCain and his campaign decided to decline this proposal. Apparently they would rather contrive a political issue than foster a genuine discussion about the future of our country.
If McCain really wanted these townhalls, he wouldn't schedule them first and publicly hope Obama shows up (or deliver the invitation by courier, etc.) - he'd try and work with him behind-the-scenes and announce them together. So we'll see the candidates debate, but let's not fool ourselves into thinking McCain isn't trying to make a process fight out of it.
Update [2008-6-14 12:51:59 by Josh Orton]: A couple more thoughts...
As a benefit for McCain, the 10-townhall intensive schedule would also have a disruptive effect on Obama. Candidates don't just show up at debates - they take lots of time to prep for them, going over various angles of policy decisions, their opponent's rhetorical history, possible attack lines, etc.. Everything is gamed out and prepared for.
I don't think McCain really proposed the series with much expectation that Obama would agree even to most of the debates. But if Obama did agree, he'd have less time traveling the country and engaging voters personally.