Yesterday afternoon, Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist caused a minor stir by saying he doesn’t think Rush Limbaugh or Mark Levin should host debates. Limbaugh had already correctly (and I think graciously) acknowledged he was “too famous” to moderate. But Levin predictably fired back, calling Norquist a “jerk.”
This might sound like a ridiculously hypothetical argument, but it turns out the idea of Levin moderating a debate was actually floated by RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer.
No offense to Limbaugh or Levin (who are very talented at what they do), but Norquist is obviously right on this one.
The RNC is wisely refusing to continue turning over the vetting of candidates to establishment media types. Doing so creates all sorts of problems. As Norquist told The Hill: “[We’ve got] Anderson Cooper asking all the Republicans about gay marriage,” he said. “Then people watching it on TV go, ‘Well, the Republicans seem pretty obsessed about gay marriage.’ No, Anderson Cooper is fascinated by the subject of gay marriage.”
Having said that, Republicans shouldn’t go the exact other direction, either, where candidates might feel forced to answer only conservative litmus-test questions — and perpetuate the epistemic closure conundrum.
Either extreme risks handicapping the Republican nominee going in to a General Election.
To avoid this pitfall, the RNC should avoid debate moderators who are provocateurs or entertainers, and instead, feature a mix of center-right journalists and conservative opinion leaders – coupled with respected journalists who have demonstrated an ability to be fair.
Why not invite moderators like Hugh Hewitt, Laura Ingraham or Bill Bennett (all radio talk show hosts, by the way) — team them with a Rich Lowry, Bill Kristol, George Will, or Arthur Brooks — and then, finally, sprinkle in some Jake Tapper, Chris Wallace, or a Sharyl Attkisson?
Another idea: Back in 2011, Jennifer Rubin noted that during the RNC Chairman’s debate, “Grover Norquist and Tucker Carlson asked pertinent questions and got out of the way. Sign them up to co-moderate every GOP debate.”
My guess is this is more what the RNC is actually planning to do. I don’t suspect are really going to invite Limbaugh or Levin to moderate their debates. But by pandering so publicly, they have managed to sow even more discord into the conservative movement.