Without Debates, We'll Only Have Aspirin Jokes and Coal Mines

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Rick Santorum got pretty mad Friday morning when CBS's Charlie Rose asked him about his No. 1 donor's comment about effective birth control being aspirin between the knees, but Santorum should get used to questions like it. Now that there will be only one more Republican primary debate, all we'll have to talk about is the dumb stuff people say in interviews. The Republican candidates pulled out of a CNN debate Thursday, and now it looks like the last debate will be February 22. For months, there were complaints from candidates and reporters that there were too many debates. But now that they're gone, the primary coverage is going to be sillier—and so much worse. 

"I'm not responsible for every comment a supporter of mine makes," Santorum said, referring to Foster Friess' joke. But Rose asked a legit question, given that Friess gave enormous donations to Santorum's super PAC, thereby keeping Santorum's candidacy alive. "Hold on Charlie, when you quote a supporter of mine who tells a bad off-color joke and somehow I am responsible for that, that is gotcha," Santorum responded. Then he brought up another stupid controversy that happened to emerge in the last presidential campaign at the moment when the candidates stopped debating for more than a month. “You don’t do this with President Obama," Santorum complained. "In fact, with President Obama, what you did was you went out and defended him against someone who he sat in a church for, for 20 years, and defended him, that, oh, he can’t possibly believe what he listened to for 20 years.”

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The only time the "fight" or "battle" or "war" for the nomination isn't just a war on paper is in the debates. Debates our only chance to have something new to talk about, beyond the same safe stump speeches with boring abstractions like "I will cut spending" or "I will make the military even stronger." So the only visual things we'll have to talk about are gaffes or the meaningless bits of new color from the candidates' speeches.

For example, on Friday ABC News reports on Romney and Santorum competing to prove who had the most salt-of-the-earth ancestry. The candidates' grandparents' careers mean nothing, but they're a lot easier to picture than a smaller federal deficit. “I talked about my grandfather a lot because he came here to this country and I talk about he worked in the coal mines until he was 72 years old and sort of coal mined his way to freedom,” Santorum said in Novi, Michigan. Thing you never want to hear a government figure say: Trust me, you can coal mine your way to freedom. Romney's wife, Ann, also talked about her ancestors' coal mining days at the same event. “My grandfather never saw the sun for six days a week, and it was on Sunday when they spent a lot of time in church that he saw the sun,” she said. Unfortunately, given that for the past week or so the Romney campaign has been issuing a couple press releases a day about "UNION BOSSES," this anecdote immediately calls to mind the old union slogan: "The folks that brought you the weekend." Perhaps Ann Romney's grandpa might have enjoyed two whole days of sunshine a week if he'd had one of those despicable "UNION BOSSES." It's a cheap shot, sure, but what else is there to say when the candidates aren't on live TV each week, taking cheap shots at each other?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.