For the longest time conservatives have distrusted the mainstream media, and for good reason. For decades we have seen the journalistic double standard in Washington and elsewhere that favored Democrats and liberals and dinged Republicans and conservatives. Why else would Fox News’ “fair and balanced” motto resonate the way it does? The CNBC debate last week should have neither surprised nor outraged most folks. It was par for the course in most ways. The difference is some candidates on the stage were willing to call the moderators on it.
Yet why is it that Republicans always seem to feel they were sucker punched in situations like the debates? The RNC said on Friday that CNBC’s actions were a “betrayal.” Really? As opposed to what? The performances of the debate moderators that were so sterling in 2012? Or ’08? Or ’96?
RNC chair Reince Priebus also let it be known that he is barring NBC from its February 2016 debate role and allowing the other debate partner for that event, National Review, to go it alone. That’s a good start, but where is it etched in stone, as if commanded by Almighty God, that any Republican presidential primary debate must be moderated by so-called “mainstream journalists”? Or that these journalists and these cable or broadcast outlets are even interested in substance when it comes to Republicans and their policies?
The CNBC debacle is an opportunity for the Republican National Committee to stand up not just to NBC and but to tell ABC, CBS, CNN, and the rest to take a hike. They are welcome to cover the Republican primary debates, but their “talent” will not be needed.
For too long, Republican primary debates have been nothing more than an opportunity for a bunch of liberal, preening prima donnas, who play journalists on television, to stroke their own egos at the expense of Republican candidates. The purpose has never been to elicit thoughtful substantive answers or to spark a genuine debate among the candidates. Rather, the agenda has been to make the candidates seem like out of touch, ignorant, extremists who are solely preoccupied with hurting the poor, waging a war on women and children, and harming America’s standing in the world.
Republicans suffer under the false assumption that the media will not cover our debates if they aren’t allowed to call the shots. But they will show up, if only out of fear that they will become even more irrelevant to the general public.
So who should be asking the questions? Easy: the subject matter experts from right-leaning think tanks and grassroots organizations, such as AEI, the Hoover Institution, the Heritage Foundation, the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Federalist Society, American Conservative Union, National Taxpayers Union, etc. Each debate would be focused on a policy imperative, such as national security, tax reform, entitlement reform, and judicial appointments. Experts such as Arthur Brooks, Ed Whelan, Steve Moore, and Victor Davis Hanson would ask the questions.
Who wouldn’t watch Grover Norquist or Hugh Hewitt or Mark Levin moderate a panel made up of serious people, who know what they are talking about and won’t present rumor and innuendo as fact?
And let’s be clear for those who believe that such a format would lead to softballs for the candidates — conservatives are intellectually honest and demand substance from fellow conservatives seeking elected office. We are our own harshest critics. But our criticisms are based on substance and are meant to push candidates to think about how they would approach the nation’s great challenges were they to be entrusted with the immense responsibilities of the presidency.
Perhaps with formats like these, the American people would be reminded that presidential politics is worthy of their attention rather than the political equivalent of a reality TV show starring the Kardashians.
So Reince, take the ball you started running with by chastising CNBC and suspending NBC and take it all the way to the end zone. There is a better way to engage the American people about our principles, policy prescriptions, and the candidates who want to carry them out. And it can be found in the very institutions that have helped inform our politics and policies for the past two generations.