The GOP’s great debate over debates makes them look foolish


Sooo, last week the GOP Clown Car Cavalcade of Candidates and the Republican National Committee pitched a fit about the tone and substance of questions asked by the debate moderators at CNBC. Some conspiracy theorists went so far as to accuse CNBC of a “liberal media” plot to embarrass the GOP candidates.

Screenshot from 2015-10-28 14:04:25
h/t Donkeyhotey

First of all, CNBC is the home of Rick Santelli, the commodities trader whose unhinged rant from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade in February 2009 for a “tea party” rebellion against the Wall Street bailouts and the stimulus bill gave rise to the fake populist Tea Party movement, funded by the Koch brothers corporate partners. It is also home to über supply-sider economist Larry Kudlow, and that loud-mouthed hedge fund manager who is always shouting, Jim Cramer. Get real. CNBC is a fluffer for the banksters of Wall Street, never to be confused with “liberal media.”

Second, the GOP candidates did not need the media’s help to embarrass themselves. They managed to embarrass themselves in The GOP’s Grotesque Festival of Lies all by themselves. While I would agree that the tone of the questions was disrespectful of the candidates at times, for the most part the questions were substantive. TNR, CNBC’s Republican Primary Debate was Extremely Substantive, and, Were the questions at CNBC’s debate really so hostile? Let’s compare the transcripts.

In any event, the GOP Clown Car Cavalcade of Candidates got together over the weekend and ejected the hapless RNC from speaking on their behalf with debate organizers. The RNC, which sought to limit the damage caused by nearly two dozen candidate debates and forums in 2012 by tightly controlling the debate schedule this year screwed the pooch. The campaigns and the GOP’s dark prince of lawyers, Ben Ginsberg, drafted a demand letter to the networks and debate sponsors in an attempt to gain control over the media.

The Washington Post’s media columnist Eric Wemple writes, The Republicans’ new plan to regulate the media industry;

The applause has apparently gone to the heads of Republican presidential candidates. Last Wednesday at the CNBC GOP presidential debate in Boulder, Colo., the candidates, particularly Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), drew huge roars of approval for their tips against the debate moderators. Virtually everyone in the media — aside from CNBC, of course — endorsed those criticisms, and the media-bashing party had gained critical mass.

Along it coasted into Sunday evening, when a bunch of Republican campaigns met in Virginia to discuss their gripes with the debates — a get-together actuated by the CNBC event. On the agenda was the possibility of pushing the Republican National Committee (RNC) out of its job as a go-between for the campaigns and the various networks — Fox News, CNN, CNBC, Fox Business, among others — that host the debates. In the immediate aftermath of the CNBC experience, the campaigns wondered aloud whether the party organ had properly represented their interests. As a measure to assure the campaigns that it was serious about complaints, the RNC named a new liaison — RNC Chief Operating Officer Sean Cairncross — to handle this tricky territory.

Whatever Cairncross’s appointment accomplished, it didn’t accomplish deterring the Republican campaigns from embarrassing themselves in a very public way. There’s even a document to accentuate the embarrassment, as Post reporters David Weigel and Robert Costa have reported. Ben Ginsberg, the attorney who is mediating the whole thing, has released a “draft” of a letter that expresses many of the concerns brought forth by the campaigns.

The letter is essentially a questionnaire to be sent to the network hosts. It asks for assurances on a number of fronts, the better to enable candidates to determine whether they want to attend. Here’s a key part:

[T]he campaigns wish to have in all future debates a minimum 30-second opening statement and a minimum 30-second closing statement for each participant; candidate pre-approval of any graphics and bios you plan to include in your broadcast about each candidate, and that there be no “lightning rounds” because of their frivolousness or “gotcha” nature, or in some cases both.

There’s also a number of curiously worded questions under the frame of coercion [.]

* * *

Rather than a series of questions, this all sounds like the business plan for “The RNC Channel, Bringing You Debates the Way the Candidates Want Them.” Or at the very least, the document should include the title, “A Debate Format for the Ruling Class.”

* * *

[T]he questions reflect no understanding of where the prerogatives of candidates end, and where those of the news media begin. More simply, they show a cluelessness about what television networks do.

Television networks decide what information to put in their onscreen graphics; if they’re wrong or unfair, they get blasted. Television networks decide what shots to include in their broadcasts; if they’re intrusive or uncouth, they get blasted. Television networks decide whether they want to instruct candidates to give their answers by raising their hands or moving their lips; if they look silly in so instructing, they get blasted.

This sorry attempt to convert all media into an arm of the GOPropanda machine is not going well. You see, when you have 14 prima donnas candidates, each of them with his or her own debate interests, you are never going to come to a consensus agreement.

Ed Kilgore at the Political Animal blog writes, The Great Debate Debate Is Unraveling:

I hope a few eyes were rolling over the weekend at the Great Debate Debate of 2015, said to be a rallying point for the vast Republican presidential field that was “rebelling” against CNBC and “uniting” to demand less challenging formats for future sponsors (with the exception of the sainted Fox News).

Today the United Debate Debate front is rapid unraveling as the actually very different interests of the candidates begin to manifest themselves. Four candidates (Trump, Kasich, Fiorina and Christie) have refused to sign onto a protest letter dictating terms to the networks. And at least one candidate, Christie, is mocking the whole exercise, as reported by Politico’s Isenstadt, Gass and Gold:

“Why are we wasting time whining and bickering over this?” he asked. “I’d rather spend my time going out there talking to voters to talk about issues that really matter to the country, and if you think anybody who’s watching those debates really really cares about the future of the country is worried about whether a bathroom is close? Come on.”

“If you can’t exert bladder control for two hours, maybe you shouldn’t be president of the United States,” he cracked.

A new litmus test for candidates!

Debate moderators Carl Quintanilla (left), Becky Quick (center) and John Harwood question candidates at the debate hosted by CNBC on Wednesday. ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Christie actually sounded a bit like another critic of the debate debate, the actual President of the United States (per The Hill’s Jordan Fabian):

President Obama on Monday mocked Republican presidential candidates as thin-skinned for lashing out at CNBC over the network’s handling of last week’s primary debate.

“They say, ‘when I talk to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, he’s going to straighten out,’” he said at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in New York City. “And then it turns out they can’t handle a bunch of CNBC moderators.”

“If you can’t handle those guys, I don’t think the Chinese and the Russians are going to be too worried about you,” Obama added.

Video of speech highlights, Pres. Obama blasts GOP candidates at NYC fundraiser, above remarks at 1:53 mark.

The whole debate debate is beginning to look like an effort spearheaded by the one candidate who probably has the most to lose from probing debate question, current poll leader Ben Carson. As HuffPost’s Sam Stein reports, Team Carson would apparently prefer a “debate” made up basically of opening and closing statements:

Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon-turned-top presidential candidate, has not hid his displeasure with the current structure of Republican debates. His campaign finds them argumentative and disjointed, and they are spearheading a meeting on Sunday evening in Washington, D.C., to figure out ways to upend the system.

The proposal they appear set to push to the other campaigns will be to actually eliminate the debating portion of the debates.

Carson’s campaign wants to have all the candidates onstage and to give each of those candidates five minutes, minimum, for opening and closing statements, according to The Wall Street Journal.

If you do the math with ten candidates, and assuming (as you should not) no “leakage” via candidates exceeding their time, you’re looking at 100 minutes of non-interrupted candidate talking points. If you also, as Carson earlier demanded, a two-hour cap on the whole show, and work in commercials, yeah, there’s not any time for “debating.” This is, of course, a guy who thinks any criticism of his wacky world-view is an effort to repress him and take away his liberties, so it’s no wonder he’s hostile to the very idea of being questioned.

And how insane is this: the guy who doesn’t want to be questioned, Dr. Ben Carson, draws 29 percent support in a new NBC/Wall Street Journal survey today, eclipsing Donald Trump, who has 23 percent. Ben Carson Leads Donald Trump in New NBC Poll.

Ben Carson is chock full o’nuts and lies to television audiences, Ben Carson stumbles on a damaging falsehood (Mannatech nutritional supplements), yet the GOP’s Christian Right is coalescing around him because “he is one of us,” which is all he may need in an overly crowded field in the early caucus and primary states.

If the RNC really wants to get control of this mess, it has to find ways to get the bottom feeders in the polling out of the race to reduce the number of candidates. In the age of Citizens United Super PACs, this may be an impossible task.


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