Now that we are well into the GOP primary it is completely expected that there will be gross overanalysis on the part of major news organizations and pundits. Small events and non-events will be poured over by all, in attempts to find larger significances in instances which lack precisely that. Those not paying attention wont miss anything, but those who are will hopefully find that it relatively easy to recognize as prime time fodder. For next several months, if a late night public affairs show can’t find a topic it will just revert to something that can be scandalized and turn it into the evening’s top story.
Some of those in the media who are more honestly self aware than their colleagues have acknowledged this practice, yet nearly everyone smilingly drinks from this bottomless chalice of news material.
A great example of this practice is nearly all of the reporting concerning straw polls. Last round we had Bachmann winning the Iowa Straw Poll and pundits declared that her victory had effectively thrown her into the top tier. But nothing had really changed on the ground. If anything, the event only meant a slight uptick in fundraising for Bachmann. Less than one month passed and the Bachmann campaign was falling apart.
If there’s anyone who actually likes this kind of after-school special political news reporting they will be pleased to find that scandalization and over-reporting of straw polls is continuing with the latest performance by Hermain Cain in the Florida Straw Poll.
The problem with straw polls is that they are reported on as if they were only just less significant than a primary, when if fact they are far less important or meaningful as a regularly released national or regional poll. They do not represent who is winning in that state. They can not possibly represent any sort of national movement or momentum. They are indicative only of what the most fervent GOPers (or people who just have free time) in that state may be feeling at that particular time, and that does not really mean much in the grand scheme of the election.
This understanding is probably why Mitt Romney’s team has publicly stated that they are choosing to opt out of straw polls entirely. A strategic move that, frankly, demonstrates a level of maturity that is notably absent in the rest of the field (although he apparently participated in the recent Michigan Straw Poll and won). This move on behalf of Romney is not a small one, as he is alone in doing it. This kind of smart, proactive (as opposed to reactive) strategy, and strong debate performance indicates to me that we are seeing a new kind of Romney. Up until very recently I doubted his natural ability to campaign on the national level, and I therefore had doubts about his ability to maintain his composure late in the race, I’m willing to give him a chance. But as the race wears on it will be interesting to see if he can hold his composure as the veneer of three years of prepatory work begins to fade.