The message from the RNC seems clear enough: media outlets that want to engage as debate hosts have to remain uncommitted in the race. “A debate moderator can’t have a predisposition,” RNC spokesperson Sean Spicer said as he confirmed that National Review had been disinvited from the February 25th debate in Houston after publishing its “Against Trump” issue yesterday:

The RNC announced it had disinvited the National Review from a GOP debate the magazine had been set to co-host on Feb. 25 after its latest issue — called “Against Trump” — featured essays slamming the real estate mogul from leading conservatives including Glenn Beck, Erick Erickson and Russell Moore. …

Trump has faced accusations both of being too extreme, risking moderate voters for a GOP ticket, and of being a fake conservative with a long history of liberal views.

The National Review’s attack issue is perhaps the most visible example of conservatives struggling to take down the billionaire, who holds a prohibitive lead in national polling, as well as in the first primary state of New Hampshire.

The Houston debate has had a rocky history already. The RNC stripped NBC  from the debate earlier this week, an aftershock of the October 30th debacle on CNBC. The event will now be broadcast by CNN, with Salem (Hot Air’s parent company) as the broadcast partner.

Maybe the city of Houston should watch its step, eh?

National Review’s publisher Jack Fowler told BuzzFeed News that he had hoped to discuss this with the RNC first, and that the decision will be a “deprivation” to voters:

The publisher of the conservative National Review suggested on Thursday that the Republican National Committee is “depriving” its party by disinviting the magazine from hosting a debate because of an anti-Donald Trump symposium it published.

National Review publisher Jack Fowler told BuzzFeed News in an email Thursday night that he was not surprised that the RNC had rescinded its invitation to the magazine to co-host a GOP debate next month. “That said I would argue that the RNC should have waited for someone to complain, if someone was going to,” Fowler said. “The presumption is that our moderator / participant would not have asked an intelligent / fair question.”

“But maybe the RNC based the decision on something along the lines of — you guys just crossed a line (for a debate participant). I’d like to see their statement, if / when it comes out,” Fowler said. “After all, it’s their party and they can deprive [it] if they want to.”

Well, it didn’t take long for the complaints to come, at least on Twitter. Trump unleashed several broadsides against National Review before and after issuing this statement calling the publication “a dying paper”:

The symposium of writers published by National Review probably wouldn’t have triggered the RNC action. It’s well worth reading, too, as it includes a number of long-time conservative thinkers, including our own Katie Pavlich. Guy Benson summed up my thoughts on this yesterday, though:

The RNC probably felt it had to act because of the in-house editorial announcing NR’s opposition to Donald Trump rather than the collection of individual essays, and the NBC fight may have something to do with that, too. The CNBC debate showed an almost explicit contempt for the GOP candidates on the stage, especially Trump, which is why Reince Priebus cut them out of the remaining debates this cycle. He needed to show voters that he means to protect Republicans from media bias. Having done that, how could the RNC not follow through when one of the other debate partners explicitly and institutionally declares itself opposed to one of the party’s frontrunners?

Nevertheless, Fowler won’t regret the decision. The fight will raise NR’s profile, especially among conservatives who care about policy, and more importantly sets a marker for the future if and when it comes to a Trump presidency. Trump gets one more bête noire to target on the Right. The RNC gets to underscore itseven-handedness as a referee when it comes to dealing with debates and the media. In this case, everyone can claim a victory.

And … that has already begun:

Matt Welch’s response at the libertarian Reason is worth pondering, too:

There’s one thing this dispute symbolizes, aside from the ongoing (and long-running) battle for the soul of the modern Republican Party. And that is this: Many or even most of the people who make a living working in politics and political commentary—even those who think of themselves as outsiders, such as nonpartisan libertarians—inevitably begin to view their field as one dedicated primarily to ideas, ideology, philosophy, policy, and so forth, and NOT to the emotional, ideologically unmoored cultural passions of a given (and perhaps fleeting) moment. Donald Trump—and more importantly, his supporters, who go all but unmentioned here (Ben Domenech is an exception)—illustrate that that gap is, well, yuuge.

Yes, Trump is nobody’s conservative, but it’s not at all clear that many voters really care about such things. His rise is a rebuke to the stories that political commentators have long told themselves, and to the mores they have long shared even while otherwise disagreeing ideologically with one another. You can despise Donald Trump (and oh Lord I do), and appreciate National Review’s efforts here, while simultaneously wondering whether his forcible removal of a certain journalistic mask might also have some benefit.

To some extent, it’s the same blinders that some in the GOP wore in 2012 about Barack Obama’s enduring appeal, too. This time, they have a head start on figuring it out.