The House GOP came under fire today as internal Republican documents present in the form of a 31-page guide by the House Republican Conference revealed that the Conference advised staffers to use planted audience members for conversational purposes.
House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) advocated the use of pre-planned questions in order to move the dialogue in a direction suited to the public event; the guide also described how GOP members should "Invite at least 3-4 people with whom the member already has an established relationship. This will strengthen the conversation and take it in a direction that is most beneficial to the member's goal."
It is immediately clear that this is in two ways a self-destructive way of going about public debates. First of all, the purpose of the public debate is to engage constituents and those members of the public sphere who are interested in learning more about the Republican party's purposes and goals. By planting questions for meet-ups, roundtables, and forums, the GOP is harming its own ability to reach out to voters in return for the ability to look better and sound better. Second, the majority, if not all, of the public who show up at a Republican or a Democratic public event belongs to that party. By planting audience members, the only potential effect is creating disdain for political tactics such as planted questions within your own support group.
The House Republican Conference planning kit, "Fighting Washington for All Americans," offers a very comprehensive approach for new media and outreach to the public. The guide also includes a variety of new techniques to reach a wider younger audience, advocating the use of Vine and Twitter to increase its presence in the social media world. These are savvy moves by the Republican Party, but the old-fashioned question planting is not. The same sort of planted questions caused a stir in President Obama's 2008 Democratic campaign, where Former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton's staff was accused of planting questions.
President Obama stated, "When I go into a town hall meeting, I never know what questions to expect and that's a good thing because the people of New Hampshire should expect that their candidates are going to hear what's on the voters' minds and not what's been concocted by the candidate's staff." CNN also came under fire for planting audience members previously, so it is clear that this is a practice that has become an unfortunate addition to the fabric of political campaigning and outreach. With fake questions, the public-at-large is harmed.
The political sphere trades in its respect for its audience for appearance. The GOP in this case should rethink its public outreach approach. Leave the fake questions. Take the cannoli ... and the tweets.