Probably at least one cycle past time, but, er .. better late than never. RNC spokesman Sean Spicer told Newsmax host Steve Malzburg that the Republican Party plans to significantly change its approach to presidential debates in the primary cycle, reducing their numbers and perhaps reducing their exposure to moderators from traditional media outlets with axes to grind. The RNC wants to get conservative media involved in parallel, if not as a complete replacement (via Newsbusters):

“ For too long, it’s been the media that’s decided when we’re going to debate, who is going to be in the debate, what questions are going to be asked, what subjects are going to be forward….As we all know, the liberal media does not have the interest of the party at hand . . . You should not just have left-wing, liberal moderators asking questions of our candidates and determining that.”

“Some of the folks in the media try to prepare this as, ‘Oh, you guys don’t want to face tough questions.’ This has nothing to tough questions,” Spicer insisted. “Anyone who has listened to your show, or read Breitbart or The Daily Caller, knows that conservative media is a heckuva lot tougher than mainstream media, but they’re focused on the issues that matter to conservatives and grassroots activists, as opposed to the left-wing liberals out there,”

Spicer added: “And so one of the things that we recognize is that they have a voice in this process. And we need to get people from Newsmax, people from The Daily Caller, people from The Washington Examiner, people from Breitbart….National Review, legitimate conservative journalists need to have a voice in questioning the Republican candidates for the nomination.”

Spicer also mentions Townhall.com, our sister site, which is part of Salem Communications. That includes the Salem Radio Network, which would give the RNC a pretty significant media platform from which to broadcast a debate or two. If the GOP debates got C-SPAN coverage — which would probably not be difficult to arrange — them having a couple of Salem debates would be an easy way to bypass the traditional media outlets, and to put any number of excellent conservative thinkers on a moderator panel, starting with syndicated SRN radio hosts like Hugh Hewitt, Dennis Prager, and Michael Medved, and a few of our writers as well.

This makes a lot of sense, and it raises the question of why the RNC didn’t at least try this in one of the two dozen debates sanctioned by state parties in the 2012 cycle. One answer is that party rules in that cycle gave the national committee less leverage in the process. Those rules are changing with the cooperation of the state parties (or at least their RNC representation), so opportunities may soon arise for this kind of alternative.

That’s not to say that the GOP will entirely snub the traditional outlets, but it does put more pressure on them to play it straight in the debates. If they don’t, the RNC can go full native and cut them out entirely. Media outlets will still be forced to report on the debates regardless of whether they participate or not, so the rise of the alternative-media infrastructure gives most of the leverage to the Republican Party. Let’s see if they follow through and use it.