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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Candidates must adapt to the new world of presidential media or drop out

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Count the number of television series you have watched, as an adult, six to eight years or even longer.

For the FMH and me, it’s been “The Cosby Show,” “ER,” “Seinfeld” and (short end of spectrum) “Malcolm in the Middle,” “Modern Family,” “24,” “Friday Night Lights” and “Downton Abbey.”Point being, it takes a lot to produce a show with characters you want in your living room for that long a run. We are now at the beginning of a process to show us whom we can stand to watch over such a prolonged period of time.Presidents didn’t used to be such fixtures on our little screens (or now our mobile platforms). They would loom very large for short bursts of time and then go away. A lot more in campaign season, but in the other three years, not so much.

Now, with the rise of cable and Twitter they are always there. Always. Impossible to escape.So debate season, while of course about issues and contrasts, is actually really a new kind of television pilot season. Who, really, can we watch, day in and day out, for at least four years and possibly eight?The debates feature different views of these candidates, and last week’s smash up was the view one gets of relatives who have slightly too much to drink at a family holiday gathering when the subject turns to politics and sides are drawn.

At the end, feelings are hurt, some dishes smashed, and some folks won’t be invited back for years, if ever. It didn’t have to be that way. It wasn’t that way at the CNN debate in which I participated, and I hope it won’t be that way at the two more at which I am scheduled as a questioner. But here’s a not-so-secret difference between GOP debates two and three: Jake Tapper, Dana Bash and I have spent a combined five decades asking political people questions for instant broadcast. Not print interviews that appear days later, but immediate broadcast. We’d all had a lot of practice — a lot.

And on top of that base we practiced a lot in the weeks and days before the debate. I don’t know if the CNBC folks practiced as much as the CNN-Salem Media Group team did, but our preparation showed as did the relative happiness of the candidates and audience post-debate. GOP primary voters came out of the September debate at the Reagan Library with a better understanding of their still-evolving calculation on whom could keep their attention for up to 8 years. And with more developed views on which of the 15 might hold over years, if not their affection, at least their respect and interest.

There was some illumination of the same quality of durable watchability last week, though in a wholly unintended way. Candidates would do well to shrug off that fiasco and shoulder on. Do they need the television time of 9 more debates before the American people, however tiresome I or any other moderator becomes? They are trying out for a part with with a long and important run ahead. They have to prove adequate in the prelims before the finals begin.It isn’t supposed to be easy, or predictable. Even confrontational, ideologically screwed, incoherent, garbled and silly questions and interruptions have their role to play. All illumines. Take every situation and make the most of it.

That’s the new world of presidential media. Adapt or drop out. It isn’t going to change. In fact, as the MSM gears up for its full throated push for Hillary, it’s going to get worse.


This column was originally posted on


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