Why GOP Debates Should Be Moderated by Limbaugh and Hannity

Today, the Republican National Committee is expected to pass a resolution declaring that CNN and NBC are big liberal meanies and they don't want to go play over at their house ever ever ever again. Or more particularly, since the two networks had been planning to produce shows about Hillary Clinton, the RNC is going to protest by refusing to allow either of them to sponsor primary debates during the presidential campaign of 2016. This bit of foot-stomping has prompted some on the right to argue that the party should just forego non-Fox network-sponsored debates altogether and have their confabs moderated by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. I'm with Kevin Drum on this: It's a great idea.

Republicans are convinced that previous debates have been problematic because the network talking heads who moderate them are a bunch of liberal activists trying to trip them up, a critique which is always wrong. The problem isn't that the network personalities are liberals, it's that they're just terrible. They try to come up with clever "gotcha" moments to trap Republicans and Democrats alike, and they ask one inane question after another, like what sporting event they'll be watching this weekend or what kind of pizza they prefer (watch this horror show and tell me that John King shouldn't have had to do some kind of community service as penance).

Debates moderated by partisans from the candidates' own party are much more likely to focus on ideology, and if that means the candidates will be confronted with demands to prove their ideological purity, that's a good thing. It's perfectly appropriate for candidates to have to show just how far toward the fringe they're willing to shuffle. They do it in plenty of other contexts, from appearances before the local gun club to seeking the endorsement of conservative interest groups to kissing Bob Vander Plaats' ring. Why not make them do it on television, too?

Let's not forget that primaries are supposed to be partisan. The point isn't for the country to choose a candidate, it's for a party to choose its representative. Ideological questioners are going to ask the questions to which primary voters want to know the answers. And if in the process the candidates end up making themselves look like fools, they'll have no one to blame but themselves.

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