Democracy Soup

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Eric Cantor does ‘The Daily Show’ minus the lessons of John McCain

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One of the surprises of the late stages of the 2008 presidential campaign was that John McCain was mysteriously absent from “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” McCain’s last appearance on the show was May 7, 2008, his only 2008 appearance. Even as of late 2010, McCain still holds the record for most appearances on the show, though McCain hasn’t been on for almost 2½ years.

Meghan McCain is the last family member to do an appearance on the show, on September 9 of this year.

“The Daily Show” would have liked to have had him on, but clearly the campaign felt the show no longer served its purposes.

When I saw that Eric Cantor was on the guest list this week, I did wonder whether this would be the start of another Republican comfortable to go on the show, given the possibility of a Republican majority in the House.

Cantor had advantages that most Republicans can’t claim: like Stewart, Cantor went to William & Mary, is the same age as Stewart, and is Jewish.

Despite the reputation, Stewart can be very respectful to people he disagrees with (for proof, see Stewart’s interview with Condoleezza Rice the following night).

Cantor had his chance, both in the on-air version and the extended interview on the Web, to bring to an atypical GOP audience what the Republicans would do if they get to be in charge.

Stewart enjoyed debating McCain because McCain — at that point — was the Republican who had the respect of Democrats and independents. You may not have agreed with McCain, but there was a smart dialogue.

Cantor could have been warm, charming, self-deprecating, and ready to play to the audience. Cantor could have even taken some hints from McCain. Despite McCain’s curmudgeon role, he does have some humorous moments.

But Cantor is no John McCain. He played to the audience once, only when Stewart mocked Cantor about bringing up 1980 as being long ago. Cantor asked the audience how many of them were born in 1980. There were a few applauders.

For those who think Stewart is liberal, look more carefully. Stewart has a balancing act that doesn’t so much have to do with ideology, but consistency. Stewart will debate Bill Kristol, because while he disagrees with Kristol, Stewart sees him as fairly consistent. And Stewart’s best tongue-lashing to date is still his visceral attack on Chris Matthews.

Cantor brought nothing to the table during the interview, and Stewart ripped him for it. Cantor kept saying how it was all about jobs, but never offered one way the GOP would help increase jobs. The standard submission has been cut taxes, but that hasn’t worked for the last 30 years.

But even if you believe that it works, Cantor didn’t say it during the interview. While the extended conversation went on further, any Daily Show guest has to be smart enough to get key points in the first 6 minutes. What goes out over the air makes much more of an impact that anything said on the Web version.

Cantor talked in phrases that sound good but don’t mean anything. Few things upset Stewart more than to hear someone speak that way. While Cantor really should have prepared by watching McCain’s old interviews, the Stewart-Matthews battle should have been the first video to watch.

One reason why Republicans struggle on shows such as this, the Colbert Report, Letterman, etc. is that they are used to being treated like kid gloves on news shows, broadcast and cable. They get to say what they want, get passive questions, and no one challenges them on what they say.

Stewart actually asks guests to back up what they are saying, especially when he smells hypocrisy in the air.

Cantor noted that the GOP heard the message from 2006, how they weren’t doing what the people wanted. Cantor leaves out the various scandals: Jack Abramoff, Mark Foley, Duke Cunningham in that explanation.

Cantor doesn’t even see this in terms of anybody outside the base. His thought process is that the base was upset. The GOP lost control in 2006 because those outside the base had enough.

But this election for the GOP isn’t about them. Cantor and his fellow GOP members in the power structure know that rallying the base is what the GOP needs to do.

So perhaps Cantor isn’t upset that his performance on the Daily Show didn’t go well, that there were no ideas where Stewart’s audience could relate.

John McCain understood that he needed to get his ideas to an audience that wasn’t used to them. McCain knew humor was needed to relate to this potential audience of voters. And for a long time, McCain was very successful with this formula.

Yes, McCain forgot all about this once he ran in 2008, but by then, McCain was a different man and a different politician. Cantor says the GOP has learned from the past, but what was clear Tuesday night in a New York City studio is that Cantor still doesn’t get it. Even though Cantor and Stewart has a striking amount in common, they live in two different worlds, but amazingly enough in the same country.


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  1. Eric Cantor does ‘The Daily Show’ minus the lessons of John McCain…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

    World Wide News Flash

    October 15, 2010 at 6:32 pm

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