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Why Debates Matter

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Simi Valley, Calif. — The skills that make a good president aren’t necessarily demonstrable on a debate stage. But a candidate must be elected, which means being able to win some debates. On Wednesday evening, a consensus formed quickly: Florida senator Marco Rubio and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina had emerged victorious.

In the spin-room scrum that followed, some were quick to voice their objections. “A good performance doesn’t mean you’re a solid conservative,” said former Senate majority leader Trent Lott, who is supporting the rumpled and prickly Ohio governor, John Kasich. It’s true. Success on the debate stage doesn’t require passing a test of ideological purity or managerial competence; it demands qualities that are easy to identify and hard to define: charisma, stage presence, self-possession. Underlying these “winning” traits is usually some even-more-elusive mix of appearance, body language, voice control, eye contact, style, humor, temperament, and message. Why did Rubio and Fiorina best their challengers? On matters of substance, says a top Republican strategist, succeeding on the debate stage — and, for that matter, on the campaign trail — is partly a matter of integrating personal narrative and political message.

Rubio, the freshman senator, used a question about the appropriateness of speaking Spanish on the campaign trail to talk about his immigrant grandfather’s aspirational beliefs about the country — and his own.


Source: Eliana Johnson, http://www.nationalreview.com