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“Another ‘Here Comes Marco Rubio!’ Boomlet”: Can The Media And The GOP Establishment Sell Marco Rubio To GOP Voters?

“This is the moment they said would never happen!” said a triumphant Marco Rubio in his victory speech last night in Iowa. It was an odd thing to say, coming from a guy who just came in third, after all the polls showed him running…third. And while he didn’t specify who “they” were, that kind of vague “they” usually refers to the powers that be, the hidebound thinkers of the political and media elite. Which is also odd, because those are the people who have always been most enthusiastic about Rubio.

If all the attention in the GOP presidential primary will now narrow down to three candidates — Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump — there’s no question who the choice of the Republican establishment (and yes, I know it’s a problematic term, but it does refer to something real) will be. After panicking for weeks about the race coming down to a choice between an erratic billionaire with no commitment to the party and an insurgent ideologue even other Republicans find loathsome, Rubio offers the only way out, the party’s best chance of avoiding disaster in the fall.

So we’re upon another “Here comes Marco Rubio!” boomlet, even though it’s based on almost nothing other than the fact that he somehow “exceeded expectations” by coming in exactly where everyone expected him to in Iowa, albeit with a few more points of support than polls had shown. As I argued yesterday, when someone does better than expectations, it doesn’t tell us much about them; it just tells us that those doing the expecting were wrong. But no matter — today’s headlines tell us of “Marco Rubio’s very big night in Iowa,” to “Forget Ted Cruz: Marco Rubio is the big winner of the Iowa caucuses,” that “After Iowa, keep your eye on Marco Rubio, not Trump or Cruz,” and “Why the Iowa caucus was a win for Marco Rubio, even though he lost to Ted Cruz.”

Cruz told NBC: “I’m amused at listening to media talk about ‘what an impressive third place finish!’” But since Cruz portrays himself as the scourge of both the media and political elite, it’s probably fine by him. He’ll now get to say that he’s the insurgent and Rubio represents the establishment, which in addition to tapping into the Republican electorate’s mood of disillusionment will have the virtue of being true.

The Republican establishment knows that Rubio looks like the most electable candidate — he’s not a loose cannon like Trump and not a bitter ideologue like Cruz. And as Michael Brendan Dougherty argues, “Rubio’s candidacy is essentially based on the premise that nothing from the George W. Bush era has to change for the Republican Party,” that even though he may look different, he’s offering the same policy prescription as ever: tax cuts for the wealthy, an interventionist foreign policy, and a hard right line on social issues. Also, unlike Cruz, Rubio doesn’t spend all his time lambasting Washington Republicans for being a bunch of traitorous weaklings.

But why would the supposedly liberal media think so highly of Rubio? To begin with, let’s not kid ourselves: they do. He’s not personally repellent or drawn to kamikaze tactics, like Cruz, and he’s not crazy, like Trump. Rubio is a good speaker, is pretty informed about policy, and has a heartwarming personal story about his immigrant parents. When those journalists and commentators say so, and write stories describing how Rubio’s campaign is about to blossom, they’re expressing their faith in the process. Regardless of their personal ideology, they’d like to believe that this whole chaotic mess eventually winds up in a somewhat rational place. If the GOP nominates Rubio, it’s proof that the process works and one of our two great parties has not completely lost its mind.

How does that square with all the attention given to Donald Trump? Trump pulls the media in two different directions. On one hand, he’s an irresistible story, a compelling personality who constantly says appallingly newsworthy things and drives his opponents crazy. We’ve loved reporting on him and writing about him. It’s been a hoot. But on the other hand, were Trump to actually win, it would show that the system can be hacked, that a kind of lunacy had taken over, that the worst kind of demagoguery and the shallowest kind of celebrity can combine to hijack what is supposed to be a relatively orderly and predictable process. And to people who care about politics, whatever their personal beliefs about issues, that would be a disturbing result.

So whether they’re consciously aware of it or not, most people in the media would probably prefer Trump to fall eventually, after we’ve all been thoroughly entertained by his candidacy. Rubio as the GOP nominee might not be as much fun, but it makes sense.

We’ve been through this before. Four months ago, we witnessed the sudden emergence of articles predicting that Rubio was about to rise. Unfortunately for him, the voters didn’t get the memo; in the average of national polls he stands at 10 percent, not too far from where he’s been all along. Maybe now that the voting has started and other candidates have begun falling away, Rubio will gain support and even win a primary somewhere. But at the moment, outside of Iowa, he’s still the candidate of the elites, not the voters.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, February 2, 2016

February 3, 2016 Posted by | Establishment Republicans, GOP Voters, Mainstream Media, Marco Rubio | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“I Fear I Have Been Mistaken”: President Trump is Now A Possibility. And It’s Terrifying

Like many members of the media, I have spent much of the past six months pretending I have some idea of what will happen in the presidential election.  Specifically, I have maintained a sanguine and somewhat bemused certainty that, whatever else happens, there will be no President Trump.

Today, with every meaning of this phrase, I fear I have been mistaken. At this moment, with the final Des Moines Register poll in and considering what I have seen and read about Trump’s supporters in Iowa and elsewhere, it would be foolish to say that President Trump isn’t a possibility. And that is terrifying.

Here are the things I have said to tamp down the notion that Trump could win the nomination:

“The establishment Republicans will rally behind a candidate.”

“He doesn’t speak the language of the evangelical voter.”

“Veterans will see right through him.”

“He doesn’t have a real infrastructure or ground game.”

“You can’t win without making significant ad buys.”

“His negatives are too high to get very far.”

“His supporters aren’t dedicated enough to caucus.”

I’m still holding on to some hope for the last one. (Not since high school have I wished so fervently for a snow day.) The rest of these assumptions have either been falsified or called into significant question.

You’ll notice I didn’t even bother listing the numerous things Trump has said to offend people. I have stopped believing it is possible for Trump to give offense – or, rather, I have stopped believing that giving offense is a reason people would cease to support him.

All he really needs to do is win Iowa — an increasingly likely outcome. After that… Well, tell me the first state he’ll lose. Not New Hampshire (leads by 18). Not South Carolina (leads by 15). Not Nevada (leads by 12). Super Tuesday states have been infrequently polled, but the two with the biggest delegate prizes (proportionally distributed) have recent results. Trump leads in Georgia by 10 points, and in Texas the “poll of polls” has him closing the gap with, ahem, “native son” Cruz to just two points. In Florida, he leads by 17 points.

What’s more, polls of a shrinking field seem to suggest that as long as a standard-bearer for the establishment remains in the race, Trump will continue to dominate. Cruz emerges the victor only in a head-to-head battle – a bittersweet indication for Cruz that he is not quite as hated by moderate Republicans as he either claims or should be.

I will refrain from running through specific general election scenarios, because — she sighs heavily — we are not there yet. Here is where we are: The strong possibility that Trump will get the GOP nomination, and that means that there is a non-zero chance that he will win the general election.

Non-zero is, to say the least, less that certain, but it’s a greater chance than most political professionals have given him up until… now. And non-zero is enough to scare the shit out of me.

Rationally, a Trump primary victory is clearly disturbing, but until this week I hadn’t considered it beyond an uncomfortable commentary on the Republican electorate on the way to a certain Democratic victory.

I mean, right? Er, right?

If we – I – have been so wrong about Trump’s chances at making it to the general, then I think it’s only appropriate to question all our assumptions about his chances nationally.

I spent much of this week reading and watching interviews with Trump supporters. I’d taken the  previously reported incidents of slurs and scuffles at rallies seriously, of course. But a distracting voice in my head countered that crowds take on their own personalities, that protesters often intend to provoke responses, and that, besides, could you really ascribe the same level of ugliness to everyone? Surely, those responses were the extreme of the extreme.

Go read the report put together by CNN. It’s a collection of quotes left to stand mostly on their own, taken not from those kicking and punching and shouting but the rest of the crowd. There is nothing new here, not really, it’s the same ill-informed nationalist doggerel as he spouts.  It’s chilling not because it’s somehow more extreme than you thought it’d be but rather because their complaints are so uniform and matter-of-fact:

“White Americans founded this country,” one 64-year-old woman told CNN. “We are being pushed aside because of the President’s administration and the media.”

A recent study delivered statistical proof of the mindset only implied by the language: Trump supporters are attracted to a quality that goes beyond “being a successful businessman.” They are attracted to his authoritarianism. They are, in fact, in favor of turning authoritarian ideas into policy:

Trump voters exhibit statistically significant and substantive authoritarian attitudes. For example, Trump voters are statistically more likely to agree that other groups should sometimes be kept in their place. They support preventing minority opposition once we decide what is right.

Trump supporters kick the fundamental tenets of Madisonian democracy to the curb, asserting that the rights of minorities need not be protected from the power of the majority. And they are statistically more likely than Trump opponents to agree the president should curtail the voice and vote of the opposition when it is necessary to protect the country.

To put it another way. The frightening thing about Trump voters is not that they’re angry, it’s that they believe they’re right—and they believe they’re winning.

Trump has, to use language Trumpkins would likely sneer at, empowered them. That sense of empowerment matters because the difference between authoritarians and populists is any sense of respect for minority opinions. In a world run by authoritarians, the only break on unjust behavior is whether you can get away it.

So, now, imagine a Trump nomination. Imagine how empowering that would be, and to whom.

There are two prevailing theories for why journalists and data crunchers got Trump’s trajectory wrong. One argument has it that Trump’s candidacy is a “black swan event”—an unprecedented amalgam of unreproducible and unpredictable circumstances, simply too weird to have foreseen.

I like that theory because it lets us off the hook, somewhat. And, well, it’s not an inaccurate description… but it’s really more of a description than an explanation. What’s more: all swans look gray in the rearview mirror. The end of Trump might look like the rise of nationalism in Europe or might look like Goldwater’s defeat. But it will look like something that has happened before, because everything does.

Another theory as to pundits’ blinkeredness, popular on the right, has it that we in the political world were simply too caught up in our cocktails and TV green room chatter to notice what was going on out there in “real America.”

This certainly feels close to the truth. There is darkness to be found out there, in the rallying around Kim Davis and the rejection of civil rights in Houston. On the other hand: “Real America” is multifaceted and self-contradictory, like most other real things. Americans show growing, support for an increased minimum wage and police body cameras, and young people have a historically high rate of interracial dating. How were we supposed to pick out the authoritarian strain from the progressive one?

I think we didn’t see Trump coming because we lacked imagination.

Science fiction has done a better job at predicting Trump’s success than political science has, after all. Neal Stephenson Interface describes a candidate guided via the input of real-time polling data directly into his brain. (He even decides to skip a debate.) Dark Mirror has plumbed the phenomenon of “a “joke” candidate becoming so popular that the forces behind him slip easily into despotism and violence.

Social scientists and journalists imprison themselves behind conventional wisdom and, to a lesser extent, evidence–the dark impulses that fuel Trump’s supporters have been mostly invisible to the naked eye: Sure, around the fringes of the Tea Party and in the twisty bowels of internet comments, one could sense the anger and racism, but I avoided looking into the abyss and preferred instead to gesture towards the more intelligible gamesmanship of Washington insiders.

It’s no secret that Trump’s rise has created history’s longest hot mic moment for the media. We have been caught without a script, and the rote truisms and filler material that usually fills the awkward silences have proven increasingly inappropriate to the unprecedented tragicomedy playing out before us.

I now see what my problem was: in discounting Trump’s chances, I relied on guidance from history and reason. These are inadequate defenses against the forces at work in Trump’s rise.

Logic didn’t help us foresee him and won’t work against him. We can’t argue policy, we are going to need something more like a Patronus.

I am not endorsing magical thinking; beliefs in no-cost shortcuts, legends, and mythical creatures are what brought us Trump. But we will need more than debate, a force stronger than facts.

I suspect we’ll need love: love for our country, for the people in it, for the ideas it stands for.

We have to love our country and what it can be more than Trump supporters fear what they believe it’s becoming. His power stems from their belief in that darkness – and with persistence and patience and heart, we’re going to have to make them see the light.


By: Ana Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, January 31, 2016

February 1, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Iowa Caucuses | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Trump Bullies The Press — And The Press Yawns”: Same Press Corp That Writes Endlessly About Hillary Clinton’s Relationship

“I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly.” Trump attorney Michael Cohen threatening a reporter.

It’s sad that Donald Trump is normalizing so many unsavory traits with his presidential push this season. He’s normalizing bigotry and xenophobia in the campaign arena, for instance. He’s also mainstreaming the manhandling of the press.

Just ask Trip Gabriel.

The New York Times reporter was tossed out of a Trump event in Iowa last week. He was thrown out by a Trump staff member and a local police officer who suggested he was following the orders of Trump’s Iowa campaign chief. (Days earlier, Grabriel had written a piece that raised questions about Trump’s ground game in Iowa.)

On the surface, that’s a shocking event: the Republican frontrunner’s campaign singling out a Times reporter and having him physically ousted. But since last summer, this type of bullying behavior has become quite common, and the media’s response has become nearly mute. Indeed, Gabriel’s ejection was noted in the media but didn’t seem to set off any loud alarm.

Covering Trump today means being confined to metal barrier press pens at events. It means rarely being allowed to ask the candidate questions and being the target of vicious insults from the candidate and his fans. (One CBS reporter covering a rally was recently asked by a Trump supporter if he was taking pictures on behalf of ISIS.)

Trump and his campaign push the press around at will and they pay no real price. If anything, Trump gets showered with more press attention despite calling out reporters as “scum”; despite denouncing them as liars and cheats at his campaign rallies.

On and on the bullying goes and the pushback remains minimal. This is a profound embarrassment for the national press corps. It’s a profound embarrassment for editors and producers in positions of influence who have voluntarily acquiesced their power in order to bow down to Trump and his campaign road show.

The gleeful bullying of the press meshes with the bullying that often goes on at Trump rallies, where violence percolates. Like those thug rallies, we’ve certainly never seen this kind of behavior from a major party’s political frontrunner.

But like the Trump rallies, where’s the indignation over the constant press intimidation? Where are the outraged editorials? Where are the endless, handwringing TV panel debates about what Trump’s hatred of the press really means; what it tells us about his possible character flaws, and his would-be presidency.

It’s possible the press doesn’t want to make itself the story, that it wants to maintain its role as observers and not newsmaker and that’s why it has refrained from turning Trump’s bullying into a big story. That theory takes a hit though when you consider the same press corps has written endlessly about Hillary Clinton’s relationship with the press and has stressed over and over what a central role reporters play in her White House push.

It’s true that last November, representatives from several news networks banded together and held a call to discuss “how embeds and reporters from outlets are being treated” by the Trump campaign.

But as Huffington Post‘s Michael Calderone recently reported, the Trump campaign seems uninterested in the press complaints: “In recent weeks, journalists have again been ordered not to leave the press pen by campaign staffers and volunteers and even Secret Service agents, according to reporters who were granted anonymity to speak candidly. Journalists also said they were not allowed to approach the candidate to ask questions after events.”

Journalists: We think you’re treating us badly.

Trump campaign: We don’t care what you think.


*At a recent Trump rally, a Huffington Post reporter noted, “that a Secret Service agent stepped up to help when a Trump campaign staffer tried to interfere with his reporting.”

*Trump bashed Fox News host Megyn Kelly as “bitter” and “overrated,” called NBC’s Chuck Todd “pathetic,” and announced most journalists are “absolute scum.”

*Asked about allegations from a 1993 book that Trump had sexually assaulted his then-wife Ivana Trump (she later recanted the claim), Donald Trump’s attorney threatened a Daily Beast reporter: “So I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting. You understand me?”

*At a South Carolina rally, Trump mocked and mimicked a New York Times reporter who suffers from a chronic condition called arthrogryposis, which limits the movement of his arms.

*His campaign barred a BuzzFeed reporter from attending an event in Newton, Iowa, denied Des Moines Register and Huffington Post reporters press credentials to campaign events, and barred reporters from Fusion from covering a Trump event in Doral, Florida.

*Univision anchor Jorge Ramos was physically removed from a Trump press conference.

*A security guard at an Iowa rally threatened to eject any reporter who interviewed Trump supporters: “You talk to people and you leave.”

*At a South Carolina event, Trump derided NBC’s Katy Tur as “Little Katy, third-rate journalist.” Trump fans then rained boos down on Tur, according to the Daily Beast.

One more, from the Washington Post:

After CNN reporter Noah Gray left “the pen” to document a group of protesters who unveiled a sign reading “Migrant lives matter,” Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski turned to campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks and said: “Hey: Tell Noah, get back in the pen or he’s f***** blacklisted,” according to a recording of the incident.

This type of behavior is completely unprecedented. If a leading Democrat were guilty of any of the above transgressions, there would be a roiling Beltway media revolt that would denounce the Democratic campaign continuously. Uninterrupted.

But the Trump campaign has committed all of the above offenses. So why is it mostly crickets from the same press corps?


By: Eric Boehlert, Senior Fellow, Media Matters for America, January 20, 2016

January 25, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Washington Press Corp | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“How And Why Campaigns Behave As They Do”: An Explanation Of What Bernie Sanders Staffers Actually Did And Why It Matters

After a spat lasting just over 24 hours, it appears that the top news story of the day is already resolving itself: the DNC has come to an agreement to return voter database access to the Bernie Sanders campaign after top staffers were caught snooping into the Clinton campaign’s records.

The brouhaha over this little fiasco has been intense, and made worse by the fact that only a few thousand people in the United States understand anything about the voter tools involved. Few journalists–to say nothing of armchair activists–have enough campaign and field management experience to truly understand what happened. That ignorance has led to wild accusations and silly reporting from all sides, whether from conspiratorially-minded Sanders supporters or schadenfreude-filled Republicans.

The first thing to understand is that NGPVAN is a creaky voter database system that looks, and feels like it was put together in the 1990s. It has been the mainstay of Democratic campaigns all across the country and has intense loyalty among national campaign professionals–though it should be noted that the California Democratic Party uses one of its more robust and more expensive competitors PDI (PDI, hilariously, sent an email this morning to its users with the subject line “At PDI Data Security Is Our Top Priority.”) I myself have extensive experience running campaigns on both platforms, both as a campaign consultant and as a county Democratic Party official in California.

The DNC contracts with NGPVAN, meaning that firewalls between competitive primary campaigns within NGPVAN are incredibly important. But they also have been known to fail. When that happens, campaign professionals are expected to behave in a moral and legal manner. But they would also be stupid not to, since every action taken by an NGPVAN user is tracked and recorded on the server side.

The other important piece of information to note is the difference between a “saved search” and a “saved list.” NGPVAN’s voter tracking has the option of being dynamic or static, meaning that you can run dynamic searches of voters whose characteristics may change as NGPVAN’s data is updated, or you can pull static lists of voters who currently fit the profile you are seeking. Most voter data pulls within an NGPVAN campaign will be dynamic searches–and in fact, that is the default setting. You really only want to pull a static list if you’re doing something specific like creating a list for a targeted mail piece–or if you want a quick snapshot in time of a raw voter list.

However, merely pulling a search or a list doesn’t mean you can automatically download all the information on those voters. You can see topline numbers. You can take a few screenshots–though it would take hundreds of screenshots and the data would be nearly useless in that format. To download the actual data, you would need to run an export–a step that requires extra levels of permissions only allowed to the highest level operatives. Despite the breach that allowed them to run lists and searches, Sanders staffers apparently did not have export access.

However, the access logs do show that Sanders staff pulled not one but multiple lists–not searches, but lists–a fact that shows intent to export and use. And the lists were highly sensitive material. News reports have indicated that the data was “sent to personal folders” of the campaign staffers–but those refer to personal folders within NGPVAN, which are near useless without the ability to export the data locally.

Even without being able to export, however, merely seeing the topline numbers of, say, how many voters the Clinton campaign had managed to bank as “strong yes” votes would be a valuable piece of oppo. While it’s not the dramatic problem that a data export would have been, it’s undeniable that the Sanders campaign gleaned valuable information from the toplines alone. It’s also quite clear that most of the statements the Sanders campaign made as the story progressed–from the claim that the staffers only did it to prove the security breach, or that only one staffer had access–were simply not true. It’s just not clear at this point whether the campaign’s comms people knew the truth and lied, or whether they were not being told the whole truth by the people on the data team who were still making up stories and excuses to cover their tracks. I suspect the latter.

In this context, it made sense for Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the DNC to suspend the Sanders campaign’s access to the data until it could determine the extent of the damage, and the degree to which the Clinton campaign’s private data had been compromised. As it turns out the ethical breach by Sanders operatives was massive, but the actual data discovery was limited. So it made sense and was fairly obvious that the DNC would quickly end up giving the campaign back its NGPVAN access–particularly since failing to do so would be a death sentence for the campaign and a gigantic black eye to the party.

This doesn’t mean that Wasserman-Schultz hasn’t, in David Axelrod’s words, been putting her thumb on the scale on behalf of the Clinton campaign. She clearly has been, judging from the intentionally obfuscated debate schedule and from her demeanor and reaction to this recent controversy. The Democratic Party would have been wiser to bring the campaigns together privately and resolve the matter internally. Instead, Wasserman-Schultz chose to take it public to attempt to embarrass the Sanders campaign, and merely managed to embarrass herself and the Party’s data security vulnerabilities in the process.

Still, the Sanders camp’s reactions have been laughable. It was their team that unethically breached Clinton’s data. It was their comms people who spoke falsely about what happened. The Sanders campaign wasn’t honeypotted into doing it–their people did it of their own accord. NGPVAN isn’t set up to benefit Clinton at Sanders’ expense–and if the violation by the campaigns had been reversed, Sanders supporters would have been claiming a conspiracy from sunrise to sundown. What’s very clear is that the Clinton camp did nothing wrong in any of this. Sanders campaign operatives did, and then Wasserman-Schultz compounded it by overreacting. And in the end, the right thing ended up happening: the lead staffer in question was fired, and the campaign got its data access back.

It’s also another reminder that armchair activists speculating about news stories would do well to actually get involved in campaign field activities. If you want to be involved in politics, there’s no substitute for actually doing the work to gain a real understanding of how and why campaigns and politicians behave as they do. There would be a lot fewer overwrought conspiracy theories, at the very least.


By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 19, 2015

December 20, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democratic Primary Debates, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Wrong Lessons Are Being Learned”: Stop Calling Them ‘Debates’. They’re Game Shows

After the bloody mess made by holding nearly two dozen debates in the 2012 election cycle, RNC chair Reince Priebus made reforming the Republican debate process one of his top priorities for 2016. It hasn’t worked. Why? Because these events are not debates at all. They’re game shows.

In 2011-12, attention-hungry candidates jumped at the chance to hold more and more debates, thinking the spotlight would help their candidacies. Instead, all those debates gave the media extra opportunities to find gotcha sound bites that damaged the party’s chances of winning against Barack Obama. Priebus pledged to keep that from happening this time around, by taking control of the debates, limiting their number, and pushing campaigns out of the strategy loop.

That didn’t work out so well.

Wednesday’s debacle on CNBC has infuriated the GOP’s 2016 presidential candidates, and has the RNC backpedaling. But the wrong lessons are being learned — and the candidates seemed poised once again to open the door to another 2012-style free-for-all.

Most observers agree that the CNBC debate was a disaster from start to finish. Seasoned journalists without a partisan ax to grind expressed their amazement and disgust at the spectacle. “Biggest loser of this debate isn’t JEB,” Ron Fournier tweeted during the debate. “It’s MSM. We’ve earned this bashing.” Even former DNC chair (and current governor of Virginia) Terry McAuliffe called the CNBC debate “an absolute farce … a joke … an embarrassment to our country.”

And so Republican candidates gathered this weekend to find a way to change the trajectory of the debates — and ended up making the problem even worse. The Ben Carson campaign argued that the debates needed to be severed from their network “sponsors.” A number of other campaigns didn’t want changes made to the format at all. The result was a series of “tweaks,” as Byron York put it, to be implemented after the upcoming Fox Business Channel debate on Nov. 10, which was deemed too close to change.

Even that modest outcome didn’t last a day. By Monday afternoon, the tenuous confederation of Republican candidates blew apart as frontrunner Donald Trump repudiated the agreement. Instead of coordinating between campaigns and broadcasters, Trump declared that he’d negotiate his own terms with the “sponsors,” and that the other candidates could either follow along or not. That threatens to return the GOP back to the 2012 dynamic, where candidates jumped at the chance to appear on television and dragged the other FOMO-plagued candidates through a gauntlet of televised debates.

The candidate confederation failed because all of these campaigns are competing with each other. The reason the RNC stepped into this role was to prevent exactly what Trump and his team want to do, which is to have 14 free agents negotiating with broadcasters.

But the reason the RNC’s original reforms failed is this: The RNC attempted to reform the wrong part of the process. The issue isn’t really how many debates take place, but the nature of the debates themselves, and the risk any one of them poses to the GOP.

These events are not debates in any substantive sense. The game-show format and the number of candidates on stage make substantive debate all but impossible. These are sound bite and gaffe contests, not a forum for sharp, honest arguments about the future of our country and party.

Nothing of substantive value emerged from two hours of wasted air time in the CNBC debate; indeed, all we have learned in nearly 14 hours of debate is how well the candidates can launch zingers. That might be valuable if we were electing the next Borscht Belt headliner, but hardly useful for choosing the next leader of the free world.

This is a failure of imagination more than a deficit of competence. We need to truly rethink debates themselves, and not just squabble over a hopelessly broken process. The RNC needs to put an end to both network sponsorship and the game-show format. If 14 candidates make the grade for a debate, then use a format that allows all 14 to make arguments for their policy choices. Offer a set of identical questions on a policy area to every candidate individually and give them each 15 minutes to answer, providing equal time for every candidate. That would require three and a half hours. Sounds like a lot, right? Well, it’s still shorter than the undercard + main event of each of the three previous debates.

When the field comes down to a manageable number — say, six or fewer — then a two-hour debate has a chance to offer substantive discussions that can frame Republican and conservative policy in an attractive manner.

If networks don’t like that format, they can cover the forums from the sidelines. In fact, with the proliferation of broadband internet, the media partnership model should be an anachronism, not a tradition. Carson’s campaign is absolutely correct about the need to cut the network strings. Presidential forums will get plenty of coverage regardless of whether they get broadcast by an alphabet-named media outlet; filing rooms fill up with reporters from all media organizations for every debate. By taking ownership of the entire event, the RNC can select moderators who display objectivity in their reporting, or even better yet, choose media figures who know the Republican voters that candidates need to reach in the primaries. Priebus deserves credit for pushing the envelope already by involving media groups on the right (including my employer, Salem Media Group, as a partner in the CNN debates), but the reform needs to go all the way toward self-sufficiency.

The Republican Party learned a hard lesson last week about the game-show format and the ability of media figures to exploit it, especially in a crowded primary. Until they change the debate format itself and replace it with a format that rewards depth and substance, they will continue to get caught with their pants down — even if the RNC or the campaigns delude themselves into thinking they’re in control.


By: Ed Morrissey, The Week, November 4, 2015

November 5, 2015 Posted by | GOP Primary Debates, Reince Priebus, Republican National Committee | , , , , , | 1 Comment


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