Politico Arena Topic: Perry's Debate Skipping a Bad Move?
Dictionary.com defines “coward” as “a person who lacks courage in facing danger, difficulty, opposition, pain, etc.” These are not exactly the qualities one looks for in a president and Rick Perry’s opponents will label him a coward should he skip future GOP primary debates. And with good reason. Debates matter. They are an important showcase for a candidate’s intellect (or lack thereof), their knowledge of important policy issues, their ability to think under pressure, and their temperament. Few people, if pressed to answer honestly, look forward to debating on a large public stage. The pressure is immense and the stakes couldn’t be higher—one flub can sink a campaign. But it is a rite of passage every presidential candidate must go through.
As someone who has spent the last several election cycles organizing debates for statewide office and Congress, I can attest first hand that campaigns and candidates frequently refuse to debate, or at least are very, very reluctant. This was especially a problem in the 2010 election cycle when internal polling showed that many of these candidates had large leads and were coasting to reelection. But the key is that the candidates knew they were ahead in the polls and did not need to debate to win. Rick Perry does not enjoy that luxury. Though expected to be the frontrunner if he got into the race, Perry is anything but and his lackluster debate performance has been one of the reasons for this. However, skipping debates is not the answer to Perry turning around his campaign—improving his performance in the debates and demonstrating to America and the punditocracy that he has the qualities we look for in a president. Just having “governor” on your resume is not proof that you are qualified (just ask Sarah Palin)—you have to earn the public’s and media’s respect and trust that you could handle the job. Cutting and running from the debate stage simply destroys that credibility.
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