Last night’s prime time debate among the Republican candidates at the Reagan Library made one thing clear to me. One big loser emerged. I thought the loser was Jake Tapper (and CNN).
The current arrangement for debates is the product of the Republican National Committee’s rethinking of the 2012 experience. Politico reported on the current set-up sanctioned by the RNC this past January here. The current arrangement represents a move in the right direction — MSNBC is out — but it doesn’t go far enough. It is time for the RNC to rethink the debate structure set up for this contest and for contests to come. I have a (non-satirical) modest proposal.
CNN’s Jake Tapper ran the show last night. Jake Tapper and CNN are not friendly to the GOP or to the interests of GOP voters. Indeed, I think it is fair to infer that he is a walking paragon of conventional wisdom on the issues of the day, or close to it. As such, he is an enemy of the GOP. Why cede control of the event to Tapper and CNN? Also on the schedule noted by Politico are CBS, NBC/Telemundo (a twofer!), and CNN again.
As the New York Times accurately observes in its account of the event: “CNN came to the second Republican primary debate looking for a fight.” In another account, The Times puts it this way: “[M]oderators at the CNN debate tried repeatedly to pit one Republican after another against Mr. Trump.” Tapper framed a series of questions calculated to produce catfights among subsets of the candidates.
The catfights made for entertaining television and served some of the candidates well. As we rounded the corner into hour three, certain strengths and weaknesses or limitations of some of the candidates became apparent. I don’t dispute that. As run by Tapper, however, whatever constructive purpose the debate played was coincidental. It was not intentional.
In this respect Tapper is representative of the mainstream media gurus who moderate the debates. The moderators’ role is key. The moderators’ role determines whose interests will be served.
Let’s go back to basics and define the object of the exercise. The object of the exercise is to give GOP voters a chance to assess the strengths of the candidates and to pick the strongest candidate to achieve their objective. The object of the exercise is to serve the interests of GOP voters in this sense.
Jake Tapper had other ideas in mind. His consignment of Hugh Hewitt to the witness protection program is representative of his pursuit of other ideas. NBC’s Chuck Todd — another paragon of conventionla wisdom — congratulated each of the moderators after the event, but Hugh (and CNN’s Dana Bash) was mostly conspicuous by his absence. Todd’s congratulations belonged to Jake Tapper. Case closed.
I’m still waiting, incidentally, for atonement for the role played by Candy Crowley in the second 2012 Obama-Romney debate. Someone really ought to get a clue.
Here is my modest proposal. The Republican National Committee schedules and sponsors the remaining debates, perhaps consistent with the current schedule. With the object of the exercise formulated to advance the interests of Republican voters, the RNC sets the ground rules. The RNC picks the moderators. The RNC seeks out the best conservative journalists and commentators — Michael Barone, Bill Kristol, Steve Hayes, Hugh Hewitt, Bret Baier, Charles Krauthammer, and Byron York, for example — to moderate the debates. The RNC stages the debates. The RNC live streams the debates and invites the networks and cable outlets to cover them.
After last night, these seem to me to be obviously desirable reforms. What am I missing?