Self-appointed media vetters are out in strength again this fall. These are the so-called experts who want to help us decide who is presidential material, before and during the primary season. They’re going to help us winnow down the field. So you want to ask:
- Why can’t voters do this job by themselves?
- If voters want help, why wouldn’t a candidate’s family and friends be the best people for the job?
- Why do you suppose journalists want this role? Does it make them feel important?
- Have journalists proven themselves good at this job?
Let’s take a quick look at the last question. Do voters get higher quality candidates because the vetters watch presidential contenders like overly serious game show hosts, to catch what they call slip-ups? In every case, a slip-up leads vetters to say the candidate is not presidential material. Are they correct? Here are three cases:
Edmund Muskie, senator from Maine, 1972 Democratic presidential primaries. Slip-up: too emotional in his response to attacks from the Manchester Guardian in New Hampshire. Vetters’ record of accomplishment: would anyone say that George McGovern was a more effective candidate than Edmund Muskie, in a race against Richard Nixon?
Howard Dean, governor from Vermont, 2004 Democratic presidential primaries. Slip-up: voice cracks as he urges supporters on after winning Iowa caucuses. Vetters’ record of accomplishment: this case may be the most egregious one of all, where reporters saw their chance to pick Kerry over Dean. Dean would have fought the Rove-Bush dirty tricks machine far better than Kerry.
Rick Perry, governor from Texas, 2012 Republican presidential primaries. Slip-up: does not have a smooth answer to a reporter’s classic gotcha question during an early debate, “What programs would you cut?” Judged not ready for prime time as a result. Vetters’ record of accomplishment: unlike Muskie and Dean, Perry did not lead in the polls at the time. Romney may have become the nominee with or without the vetters. Like the other two cases, reporters go for a slip-up that is incredibly irrelevant and trivial.
Watch the reporters at work during the upcoming campaigns of 2015-2016. They know they can’t use normal slip-ups to bring down Donald Trump. Some of them may also sense voters have had enough of their stupid gotchas. Let’s see how all of these campaigns – Republican and Democratic – go during the next several months.