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“Doing Real Vetting Should Be Part Of The Job”: Why Conservative Media Should Be Tough On Republican Candidates

When the RNC announced a few weeks ago that conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt was going to moderate a primary debate, many liberals ridiculed it as evidence that they wanted to shield their candidates from anything but softball questions. I argued that it was a good thing, first because the journalists (mostly from TV) who have moderated primary debates in the past have done such a terrible job, and second because primaries should be about what people within the party think. Someone with an interest in picking the best nominee might actually be tougher on the candidates, and would certainly have a better sense of what will matter to primary voters.

I don’t listen to Hugh Hewitt, so I can’t make any detailed assessment of his oeuvre, but though he’s certainly a partisan Republican he has a reputation as one of the better interviewers on the right. Yesterday, he interviewed Ben Carson and seemed to expose some gaps in Carson’s knowledge. This is being touted in some quarters as Carson showing his ignorance, but I actually think it’s an example of what partisan media ought to do during a primary.

I don’t know if Hewitt thinks of his mission this way, but if I were a conservative media figure like him, the last thing I’d want is a repeat of the nincompoop parade that was the 2012 GOP primaries. So doing some real vetting should be part of the job: asking difficult questions, exposing the areas of weakness that will eventually come up anyway, not to mention illuminating the real areas of distinctions that separate the candidates.

So did Hewitt ambush Carson? Maybe a bit, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with what he asked. In this case, it was about what might draw us into a war with Russia. Yes, Carson displayed some momentary confusion about NATO and the Baltic states, but candidates have done far worse (see here, for instance). And running for president ought to be hard. The job is hard. If we’re going to give someone that kind of power, there’s almost no question too tricky or detailed for them to be asked.

Now I’m no fan of Ben Carson, not by a long shot. But Hewitt asks him exactly the right question about being an amateur in politics, and Carson’s answer isn’t so terrible. Here’s the exchange:

HH: And so what I worry about as a Republican, as a conservative, is that because you’ve been being a great neurosurgeon all these years, you haven’t been deep into geopolitics, and that the same kind of questions that tripped up Sarah Palin early in her campaign are going to trip you up when, for example, the gotcha question, does she believe in the Bush doctrine when it depends on how you define the Bush doctrine. And so how are you going to navigate that, because I mean, you’ve only, have you been doing geopolitics? Do you read this stuff? Do you immerse yourself in it?

BC: I ‘ve read a lot in the last six months, no question about that. There’s a lot of material to learn. There’s no question about that. But again, I have to go back to something that I feel is a fundamental problem, and that is we spend too much time trying to get into these little details that are easily within the purview of the experts that you have available to you. And I think where we get lost is not being able to define what our real mission is, and not being able to strategize in terms of how do we defeat our enemies, how do we support our allies? I could spend, you know, the next six years learning all the details of all the SALT treaties and every other treaty that’s ever been done and completely miss the boat.

HH: Well, that’s possible, and I want to be respectful in posing this. But I mean, you wouldn’t expect me to become a neurosurgeon in a couple of years. And I wouldn’t expect you to be able to access and understand and collate the information necessary to be a global strategist in a couple of years. Is it fair for people to worry that you just haven’t been in the world strategy long enough to be competent to imagine you in the Oval Office deciding these things? I mean, we’ve tried an amateur for the last six years and look what it got us.

BC: Well, if you go to, let’s say, a very well-run hospital, you’re going to have a president of the hospital or chief administrator. He probably doesn’t know a whole lot about cardiac surgery, probably doesn’t know a whole lot about neurosurgery or pediatric infectious disease. But he knows how to put together a structure where the strength of all those departments work effectively. And as far as having an amateur in the Oval Office in the last six years, I would take issue with that. I would say that this man has been able to accomplish a great deal. It’s maybe not the things that you and I want accomplished, but in terms of fundamentally changing this nation and putting it on a different footing? I think he’s done quite a masterful job.

Ben Carson obviously isn’t going to be the GOP nominee; his run for the White House is part of a media strategy whose end point is a Fox gig or a talk radio show, supplemented by revenue from books revealing the shocking story of how liberals are destroying America. But you have to give him credit for pushing back on the idea so common in conservative circles that Barack Obama is some kind of incompetent dolt (he can’t give a speech without a teleprompter, ha ha!).

In any case, this is how interviews from conservative talk show hosts ought to go. Carson can go on Sean Hannity’s show and get a bunch of softball questions, and the answers will make the viewers nod their heads in agreement. But that doesn’t do them any good. They’ll be much better served if all their candidates get the toughest interviews possible now, and conservatives are the ones to do it.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, March 19, 2015

March 23, 2015 - Posted by | Conservative Media, GOP Presidential Candidates, Media | , , , , , ,

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