Need more evidence that the 2016 Republican presidential field will not be the usual coronation of a previous runner-up? This week, both runners-up took media jobs that will keep them out of the organizing business needed by next year to stage another primary campaign. Newt Gingrich, who muscled his way to a third-place finish despite organizing woes, will now star in a resurrected Crossfire on CNN:
CNN announced that it was resurrecting “Crossfire,” the progenitor of so many cable TV shows formatted to turn into screaming matches, and that Gingrich would anchor the “on the right” half of the table every weeknight starting this fall, along with S.E. Cupp, a conservative columnist who’s currently a regular on MSNBC.
The more prominent half of the “on the left team” will be Stephanie Cutter, who was most recently deputy campaign manager for Obama’s re-election campaign after serving in senior communications and strategy positions in the West Wing. She also has Hill experience, having worked in the Senate for Barack Obama, Majority Leader Harry Reid and the late Edward M. Kennedy. Her partner will be Van Jones, the founder of the economic think tank Rebuild the Dream.
“Crossfire” became must-watch nightly TV inside the Beltway when it aired in 1982, back in CNN’s infancy, with conservative Pat Buchanan and liberal Tom Braden as the original hosts. And it lasted and astonishing 23 years with a range of different frontmen. (Virtually all of them were white men; in its new format Gingrich will be the lone Anglo male in the quartet.) By the time of its initial demise in 2005, however, it had become a source of bipartisan ridicule and disdain, criticized widely as doing as much as anything else in the mainstream media to cheapen public discourse, polarize even the most collaborative congressional colleagues and trivialize Washington’s most serious policy debates.
“Few programs in the history of CNN have had the kind of impact on political discourse that Crossfire did,” Jeff Zucker, the head of the network, said in his announcement. “We believe the time is right to bring it back and do it again. We look forward to the opportunity to host passionate conversation from all sides of the political spectrum. Crossfire will be the forum where America holds its great debates.”
The first runner-up, Rick Santorum, was just hired as CEO of a faith-based film company, EchoLight. Despite having no experience in the film industry or as a chief executive in the private sector, Santorum pledged to “rival Hollywood” in his new perch:
It’s not the message you might expect to hear from Rick Santorum, the Christian-conservative former presidential candidate: Faith-based films tend to be lousy, and Christians should quit trying to lock modern popular culture out of their lives.
Instead, Santorum says, Christian conservatives should acknowledge that modern popular culture is here to stay, and use that platform to produce Christian-themed films that will also have quality and popular appeal. It’s a strategy he says he intends to pursue in his new role as CEO of a ground-breaking faith-based film studio. …
Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania and darling of the religious right in the crowded GOP field for the 2012 presidential nomination, was in St. Louis Monday (June 24) to promote his own foray into popular culture. He has been named CEO of EchoLight Studios, which bills itself as “the first movie company to produce, finance, market and distribute faith-based, family films across all releasing platforms.”
“For a long time, Christians have decided that the best way to fight the popular culture is to keep it at bay, to lock it out of their home. . That’s a losing battle,” Santorum said in an interview at America’s Center Convention Complex, where he was attending the International Christian Retail Show.
With “the pervasiveness of (media) right now, the content just seeps through. The only option is to go out into that arena and try to shape the culture, too.”
The project is certainly worthwhile, but it will take a few years and all of Santorum’s attention to put EchoLight in position to rival Hollywood. This makes it pretty clear that the GOP field for 2016 will consist of the New Guard in the Republican Party, and not holdovers from previous presidential cycles. That seemed more or less clear anyway, given the rise of the Tea Party and the impact of grassroots activism in the 2010 midterm cycle, but this puts an exclamation point on the evolution.
Back to Crossfire, though, and CNN’s latest effort to punch up its ratings. Hiring Gingrich will give the show some intellectual heft, but, er … shouldn’t CNN have sought that out for his opponent as well? Cutter performed inconsistently as a press flack, and isn’t exactly known for philosophical and intellectual pursuits. At the very least, it promises a wealth of video-clip material to the conservative blogosphere, at least until CNN wises up and pairs Gingrich with an actual liberal ideologue rather than a mouthpiece.
But here’s the real question: what will Crossfire bring that we don’t already get on cable-news stations? In a sense, Crossfire‘s format never really disappeared — it’s on shows like Morning Joe to this day, where two hosts have different political points of view and play the role of cross-examiner to the other guests. Or is America just starving for more political cage-match television? We’ll soon find out.