The Republican presidential debates are exerting a strong influence on this year's race, and even seem entertaining—but why? It's not just Rick Perry's penchant for the deadly 53-second pause or Michele Bachmann's ability to reinterpret US history, analysts say. It's our reality-TV culture of instant judgment: "Who gets kicked off the island, or who gets kicked off the talent stage, is now deeply embedded in the American culture," campaign adviser Steve Schmidt tells the New York Times.
In bygone days, reporters would hunt down campaign staff members after a debate and forge conclusions. “Now, it’s instantaneous,” Schmidt says. “It’s a harsh, tough verdict that is rendered not by the political insiders but by the body politic.” And let's face it, the current batch of candidates—like TV commentator Newt Gingrich and former radio show host Herman Cain—turn the debates into a lively mini-series with dramatic twists and turns. "The up and down of all the non-Romney candidates have given people a reason to tune in to see who’s up and who’s down," says another analyst. "There’s a drama." (Speaking of which, here's what to watch for in tonight's debate.)