Newt, McCain, & Instant-Replay Bias

One of my little pet peeves during the 2008 Presidential election cycle was the total lack of commentary about John McCain's marital history. McCain dumped his wife for a young, money-loaded hottie with whom he had been having a lengthy affair -- one of multiple affairs, as he has effectively admitted.

It's not for me to judge, but we always see lots of hand-wringing analysis over the potential political impact of this sort of behavior, especially in a GOP primary, where pundits can ruminate on how this will play with the "family values" crowd.

But nobody bugged McCain about it at all -- even when, at the Republican National Convention, the campaign played for the prime-time national audience a life-story video about Cindy McCain featuring gauzy, sepia-toned memories of how she and John fell in "love at first sight" at a party in Hawaii. (I checked with my wife -- it is not OK for a married man to fall in love at first sight while on a business trip.)

All of this is in stark contrast to the treatment Newt Gingrich is getting as he enters the "exploratory phase" of his Presidential campaign. I don't see how Gingrich is guilty of all that much worse than McCain, but the infidelity question is running through every story about him, every interview he gives, and every pundit discussion of his chances.

I think this is, at least in part, an example of the "instant-replay bias" I wrote about the other day in the context of Mitt Romney's health-care "problem." That is, just as a sports fan's view of a disputed play is often distorted by who he or she is rooting for, things often become "problems" for candidates, or don't, because of pre-existing attitudes toward them.

Deservedly or not, people viewed McCain as an upstanding person, above moral reproach. Plus, many of the GOP opinion-makers were heavily invested in McCain winning, so they weren't bringing it up. So even a glaring flaw was overlooked -- and on occasions when it was mentioned, it didn't really click with anybody.

Gingrich is a different story -- he has a reputation as something of a shady character, especially among insider types. Perhaps more importantly, almost all of the GOP opinion-makers are rooting against Newt, because they believe he would be a disaster for the party at the top of the ballot. So they're perfectly willing, when talking to other Republicans or with the press, to bring up and emphasize any Newt negative -- like his multiple messy marriages.

Still, it's pretty funny to me to watch all these people howling about how this issue will kill Gingrich's chances -- and will probably attribute his inevitable failure to his "infidelity problem" -- as if the GOP hadn't just nominated a cad last time around.

| More

 Friends' Activity   Popular 
All Blogs
Follow the Phoenix
  • newsletter
  • twitter
  • facebook
  • youtube
  • rss
Latest Comments
Search Blogs
Talking Politics Archives