Would you rather fight a horse sized Big Bird, or a hundred Big Bird sized horses?
On August 29 President Obama gave the internet one of its highlight-reel moments for 2012, hopping onto Reddit for an AMA session (“ask me anything,” if you’re not hip to Reddit.) He fielded questions for half an hour on everything from student debt to the White House beer recipe and only really avoided questions about marijuana legalization (typical) and the obligatory Reddit salutation: Would you rather fight a horse sized duck or a hundred duck sized horses?
The AMA broke records for participation, temporarily overwhelming Reddit’s servers, and founder Alexis Ohanian immediately issued the call to Mitt Romney: It’s your turn. “I’d been quietly working to encourage the Romney team to do one, but I went ahead and invited him publicly,” Ohanian said.
Since then politicians of varying stripes have embraced the AMA as a valuable opportunity for direct dialogue with voters. Scores of Congressional candidates have held AMAs, and every presidential contender still standing including Libertarian Party Gary Johnson have participated—all except Mitt Romney, that is.
Why has Romney avoided doing a Reddit AMA? In a Politico report today Scott Goodstein of Obama’s ’08 campaign says, “I don’t think this is a starter to help you raise your profile to national; I think you have to already have interest to have this be successful.” Romney definitely has national interest. There’s no question this would be a well-trafficked event with plenty of opportunity to interface with voters.
Is he avoiding it because Reddit’s demographic skews young and his strategy is to focus on older voters? Does he simply not have time for a 30-minute Q&A?
After watching Romney’s debate style last week, it’s hard not to think there’s another reason: Romney’s success at the debate came from projecting a powerful image by stemrolling over moderator Jim Lehrer and by Obama’s failure to ask him tough, direct questions about ways in which he’d previously contradicted things he was saying at the debate.
When the moderator isn’t one meek Lehrer but an entire internet’s-worth of savvy youngsters and the format is designed for tough questions rather than steamrolling, the style that served Romney so well at the debate probably wouldn’t translate. In fact it could backfire, with the questions spiraling in on contradictions rather than staying focused on policy.
But there’s reason to think the Reddit community wouldn’t be entirely negative toward Romney. Inviting Romney to join, Ohanaian said in an email, “He came out so strongly against SOPA during that CNN Republican candidate debate that it’s clear he too wants Internet freedom for Americans,” a popular issue with Reddit users.
So how bout it Mitt? Horse sized Big Bird or a hundred Big Bird sized horses?