The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd
Monday night’s debate was, by most accounts, a bust. This was predictable within the first minute, when Brian Williams announced that, because he is a Network Anchor and not some cable lackey, the entire audience had been outfitted with Hannibal Lecter headgear.
The silence was deafening. And telling.
Without a ravenous crowd to rally him on, Newt Gingrich was boring. He’s a candidate who, more than most, needs a studio audience to score points. Turn off the hootin’ and hollerin’, and Newt’s just a pompous ass, not a rouser of rabble.
If, like us, you’re a fan of political theater, it’s a major bummer. But if, unlike us, you’re in charge of prepping Barack Obama for debates this fall, you can’t help but smile mischievously.
Well, besides from the thought of running against Newt in the first place.
Recall that Newt’s pitch at this point comes down to taking it to the Man. Newt’s wingnut yahoo fans are thirsting to watch their third-rate history professor shut down the second-rate Con Law professor. This is laughable on the face of it — just ask a room full of Republican congresscritters how well Obama can do without a Teleprompter — but even the fantasy of Newt embarrassing that Empty Suit for the edification of a national audience loses its fizz without sweetening the soundtrack. And the fall debates, unlike the roadshows we’ve been enjoying, will definitely be quiet.
But maybe that’s fantasy on our part. Maybe we’re now too eager for Newt to win the nomination, and ignoring the candidate who doesn’t need a cheering audience to debate. So we’ll say this about Mitt: We already knew that he gets whiny when defensive, that he becomes William H. Macy in Fargo.
And here’s what we learned last night: The same thing happens when Mitt attacks.
So, it’s all good. The day’s controversies will pass, and by the fall nobody may care about Mitt’s tax returns or Newt’s contracts. But happily for America, they’ll never be able to escape themselves.