The Campaign Spot

Obi-Wan Kenobi on Last Night’s Debate and the State of Play

Because you demanded it . . . I have finally persuaded Obi-Wan Kenobi to weigh in on the state of the Republican presidential primary. Obi-Wan, a mysterious wise figure who has been around Republican politics longer than I have been alive, is not affiliated with any candidate, but since several candidates in the field have been around national politics a long time, he knows some of them quite well.

Jim: What did last night mean for Romney?

Obi-Wan: Even in the midst of heated disputes, the guy seems programmed. If an opponent challenged him during an answer, he would immediately revert to “Hey, this is my turn to talk, you aren’t allowed to interrupt” and try to show passion. He learned this after a campaign stop some while back when he got praised for showing some assertiveness with hecklers by lecturing them about his right to respond. But a presidential debate is different. These are your fellow contenders for the most important job in the world. They get some leeway. You have to come across as an engaged opponent, not an exasperated time-keeper. Mitt’s responses to criticism seemed robotic because they were. You could almost see the lights flashing as the computerized instructions kicked in: “When Challenged, Resort to Earlier Campaign-Trail Tactic That Won Praise.”

Jim: I’ve been very disappointed with Perry for much of his campaign, but I liked the new energy he showed us, at least in the early parts of last night’s debate. What do you think of him?

Obi-Wan: Look out for this guy, I’m telling you. When Romney kept insisting Perry let him talk and sounded whiney in doing it, the Texan finally looked at him and said, “Have at it.” So he uses a marvelous Southwest colloquialism to give Romney permission to proceed. That one may go down with Reagan’s “There you go again” to Carter. Never mind politics, American public life has not seen this kind of camera presence since maybe John Wayne. Men like him and women admire him. And he seems to be getting used to the debate format. On or off stage, he’s got a commanding and theatrical presence.

Jim: Wow. And Gingrich?

Obi-Wan: So we’re surprised that he’s the smartest and best debater? (Can somebody please go back and research the statements by pundits who said his campaign was over?) It may eventually come down to him and Perry, since Romney can’t really move his numbers and last night will eventually lower Mitt’s standing.

Jim: How about the rest of the field? Cain, Bachmann, Santorum, Paul?

Obi-Wan: Again, look at the theater here. Cain is the missionary and self-made legend, Bachmann the energetic legislative fighter, Santorum the bright graduate student as former officeholder, and Paul the smart (if slightly annoying) professorial type who’s got hold of some solid libertarian ideas about government. Mix them in with the other three and the GOP sure seems an exciting place to be. Talk about diversity!

Jim: Now, did I hear you correctly when you said recently that you think these debates are a “ten-strike” for Republicans?

Obi-Wan: Precisely. This is devastating to the “Gatekeeper Media Filter.” People who aren’t political junkies or activists — people who are new to politics — are not finding what Washington types tell them to expect. All this is just very different from the Huffington Post caricature of the party.

Jim: I’d like to believe that, but . . . can you prove it?

Obi-Wan: Irrefutably. (chuckling) Last night, David Gergen was delighting his CNN bosses by saying the debates were helping Obama. However, decades of systematic research by several noted scientific institutes have established that if Gergen makes an observation about the state of play in American politics, the opposite is always true. I invoke here “Gergen’s Law.”

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