With Christie and Palin out, can journalists cover popular undecided candidates better?
One day after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stopped undercutting his public denials about running for president, ex-Gov. Sarah Palin admitted Wednesday what political experts have said for months: she isn't running for president, either.
In the process, they left journalists looking a little foolish. In one case, Christie had been denying a run emphatically in public while being less decisive in private. But Palin's game has been obvious from the start; maintaining the press attention and public following of a leading politician without the inconvenience of facing elections, debates or the demands of actually running anything.
And she's doing it the with a boost from mainstream media outlets, which covered her bus tours and speeches as if she was on the stump just like the eight other major declared candidates for the GOP nomination.
In one way, journalists were reflecting the ambivalence of the GOP electorate. As James Carville pointed out on CNN a couple of days ago, Mitt Romney is the last date to the dance no one wants to take, but will probably wind up taking anyway.
My own hunch is that Republicans have fallen in love with real-life versions of the generic candidate you find in opinion polls. Survey experts know; generic, unnamed candidates from a given party always do better than any specific politician, because people can fill in the blanks of the generic guy with their own hopes, dreams and beliefs.
Undeclared or newly declared candidates are a real-life version of that. Think Rick Perry before he had to perform in a debate or Michelle Bachmann before her wacky husband and erratic public statements got serious attention. Before they face the cold light of probing public attention, candidates like Perry look like saviors. Once their full record known, the enthusiasm wanes.
Which is why media vetting is so important. And the perspective which comes from being tough on people who say want to be -- or might want to be -- elected as leader of the free world.
So I'm hoping we learn a lesson and take a more measured approach with the Palins and Christies of the future.
Because the only thing standing between voters and a steaming pile of political spin, is an aggressive, dedicated press corps.