If Reince Priebus wants to apply pressure on broadcasters to reform both the presidenial primary debates and their own attempts to monetize Hillary Clinton for their own benefit, this is certainly one way to do it. Paul Bedard at the Washington Examiner picks up on a comment last week from RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer, who said in a Sirius XM interview that there are other fish in the sea — and Bedard’s sources say they are very big fish indeed:
Miffed that their candidates were singled out for personal questions or CNN John King’s “This or That,” when he asked candidates quirky questions like “Elvis or Johnny Cash,” GOP insiders tell Secrets that they are considering other choices, even a heavyweight panel of radio bigs Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin.
They told Secrets that they are eager to bring in questioners who understand Republican policies and beliefs and who have the ability to get candidates to differentiate their positions on core conservative values.
The move comes as several conservatives are pressuring the party to have Limbaugh, Hannity and Levin ask the debate questions. “It makes a lot of sense. We’d get a huge viewership, they’d make a lot of news and maybe have some fun too,” said one of the advocates of the radio trio hosting debates.
The benefits of this are readily apparent. These three radio hosts command large audiences, far larger than a typical presidential-primary debate would attract. Furthermore, they would attract the people that the GOP most needs to energize for a national election — grassroots conservatives and highly-engaged voters. Partnering with these three would vastly improve the perception of the RNC, both for partnering with favorite New Media voices and for continued defiance to the mainstream media.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t some dangers involved in this strategy, though, and perhaps none more than the larger-than-life nature of the talk show hosts themselves. Especially with Limbaugh and maybe Levin as well, the candidates might come across as tepid and colorless in close comparison. (Think of it in terms of the danger of picking a more telegenic and charismatic running mate for a nominee.) Limbaugh, Levin, and Hannity are entertainers and activists, who know how to work on the edge to drive debate and change. The candidates may end up having to follow them to the edge to keep up if they aren’t disciplined enough to keep their balance, and that may produce some problems in a general election.
At the very least, it would be fun to try that in a format that allows candidates real time to answer in detail. It can’t be worse than what we have now, anyway. I’d still argue that the best format would be to eliminate moderators altogether and allow small groups of candidates — no more than four at a time, and preferably only two or three — discuss issues amongst themselves so as to get the most substantial look at their principles and approaches. Maybe the RNC can do a few of both kinds, while keeping control of the debates entirely in-house.
Update (AP): Dave Weigel argued last week that conservative moderators would make for more compelling Republican debates. Would the entire field participate, though? Mark Levin told Cavuto a few days ago that he’d do what he could to ensure that Christie’s not the nominee; Limbaugh and Hannity may end up opposing Christie too. Would Christie show up for a debate moderated by them under those circumstances?
Update (Ed): I think Christie in particular would feel compelled to attend. His attractiveness is based on his blunt style and willingness to take on opponents. If he ran away from Levin, it would undermine his entire raison d’être for Republican voters. I think that’s also true for other candidates, too; voters would ask, “If he/she can’t handle Levin …”