Hard-core political junkies and Newt Gingrich were undoubtedly disappointed when CNN canceled its scheduled March 1 debate in Georgia. GOP state chairwoman Sue Everhart called it “truly disheartening.”

At least some part of the country, however, is surely relieved that it can skip its civic responsibilities and watch college basketball or “30 Rock” instead. After all, there have already been 20 debates. The candidates’ positions are well known and what little suspense there is depends on one of the candidates doing or saying something stupid.

CNN pulled the plug when Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, three of the four remaining survivors begged off. Newt Gingrich had agreed — it’s his home state, after all — and probably would have been willing to carry the evening singlehandedly if the network had let him.

Gingrich uncharitably suggested Romney’s absence was because he preferred to be off to Wall Street to raise money. But the cancellation of the CNN debate and a planned MSNBC debate likely had to do with the impending Super Tuesday on March 6 when 10 states hold primaries or caucuses.

A Feb. 22 CNN debate in Mesa, Ariz., and a March 18 PBS debate in Portland, Ore., are still on.

The debates are a curious custom. True, the voters get to know the candidates and get a feel for them in action, but the debates test nothing a president does in office. If he has any kind of a staff, he doesn’t have to think on his feet. Everything is scripted for him. People don’t even argue with the president unless he goads them into it.

While a credible debate performance helps a candidate some, a simple slip can be fatal. Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign was effectively over when he had his “Oops!” moment and couldn’t remember one of the three Cabinet departments he would abolish.

The long slog of debates provides the opposition with an arsenal of ammo for the fall campaign. Mitt Romney’s gift for infelicitous phrasing — “I like to fire people” — will surely dog him through the industrial states hit hard by layoffs.

Meanwhile, Sue Everhart, be of good cheer. The Georgia Bulldogs are playing at Kentucky on March 1. Should be a good game.

Editorial by Dale McFeatters, Scripps Howard News Service


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.