If you have not worked or traveled on a political campaign, you really cannot imagine the importance of sheer mind-destroying, bone-sapping, emotion-straining, personality-fraying exhaustion as a factor in performances by candidates. Especially the moments that seem angry, thin-skinned, dazed-sounding, ill-advised, or clumsily-worded. Where there is a "gaffe," there is usually an over-tired candidate backed up by over-tired staff.
I'm not saying this is the only activity that pushes people beyond reasonable limits, sleep-wise. (Combat. Medical-intern duty. Overnight shift work or long distance trucking. Infants in the house. Etc.) I'm saying that it's the one where the very great importance of the fatigue-tax is most likely to be missed by onlookers.
We all know that hollow-eyed soldiers are tired. When we see interns in hospitals, rushing through corridors, we can guess that they're wrung-out too. And new parents.... But when we glimpse politicians on the campaign trail -- in the morning show appearances we catch on TV or radio or webcast after getting up from sleep in our own bed, on the evening shows we might see while sitting on a sofa in our own home -- we see people who are going to great lengths to look less dead than they feel.
Their day involves endless stress, movement, and performance, starting at 4:25am when they get up for the next bus or plane or morning show, through maybe 1:15am that night when they collapse after the last staff meeting or poll discussion or evening show or fund-raising call. As tired as some of the candidates have looked in the last week or two, they feel ten times worse. So do their staff members (who generally have the advantage of being younger*), and so do many reporters (which helps account for their overall choleric tone).
Rule of thumb: each hour of super-fatigue takes maybe 5 points off your IQ and 10 per cent out of your emotional balance, especially in the equanimity, patience, and "taking things with a grain of salt" departments.
I am writing this at a moment when for random reasons I've had just about no sleep for two nights, as a way of capturing some of that desperate-tired mood. And after only that much time I now just have no patience to add explanatory points (like, this is a big advantage an incumbent president has when running for re-election: travel is a breeze for him, compared to the slog of his opponents) or links to other things I know I have been written on the theme. Or even read for typos. And the mood created by this tiny bit of fraying stress, over a brief and otherwise unstressed period, is the merest glance at the fatigue burden that is crushing all our candidates now. OK, maybe not Fred Thompson: I bet he doesn't miss many ZZZZs.
Spare them a thought. You may stay up late watching for returns or comments about New Hampshire. They're up late, and then they'll be up again at 4:15am for the next day.
* For the record: I worked on Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign back at the dawn of time. I was in my mid-20s and by the end felt that I was in my 90s.