What Happened to the Endless Debates?

After the flurry of debates during the invisible primary, the cable airwaves have recently been bereft of candidates bickering with each other face to face. A final debate had been scheduled to take place this coming Monday, March 19, in Portland, Oregon—a state that doesn't hold it's primary until the middle of May. The local party and media were moving ahead with preparations, announcing moderators last week, but it looks like that debate won't come to fruition.

Mitt Romney's press secretary e-mailed Politico last night and confirmed that the leading candidate won't be attending the debate, skipping out to campaign in Illinois before that state's primary next Tuesday. Without the front-runner there's little incentive for the other candidate's to depart from the trail, and it looks like Ron Paul and Rick Santorum won't attend either.

There hasn't been a debate since a CNN-hosted event in Arizona on February 22. A pre-Super Tuesday confrontation had been slotted for Georgia on March 1, but that showdown was canceled after Romney pulled out.

Debate exhaustion was all the rage back in January when it felt like an endless string of weekly gatherings would define the 2012 campaign. But assuming no other debates will pop up, there were 20 total debates this year. That's less than the 26 Democratic debates in the 2008 race and equal to the 20 Republican debates that campaign. Why were voters and the political class alike so tired of watching the Republicans face-off this year? The debates certainly provided a series of entertaining moments—the repetition of 9-9-9, $10,000 bets, and of course "oops." But they also revealed the ugly side of Republican extremism with audiences booing gay soldiers or cheering for the uninsured to die. And they lacked any actual substance, with all of the candidates save Ron Paul lining up to every portion of conservative orthodoxy, bypassing actual policy differentiation for vague platitudes.