NBC and CNN refused to cave into Chairman Reince Priebus' ultimatum to alter plans to produce a mini-series and documentary, respectively, on Hillary Clinton, so the Republican National Committee has voted to ban those networks from hosting any of the 2016 Republican presidential primary debates.
Writing for PolicyMic, Priebus explained, "Ultimately, the RNC’s decision is about fairness. This is the right thing to do for voters. They’re not going to get a real debate of substance if it’s run by a network who has decided promoting Hillary Clinton benefits their bottom line."
Priebus has struck a chord with his base but he has left himself open to criticism if instead of controlling the debates he just shifts them to Fox, ABC, and CBS.
Priebus' hasty decision creates some problems for the RNC. First he is going to have to address the calls of bias that will emanate from his inevitable decision to allow Fox News to host more of the debates. Second, he is going to have to address how to handle the liberal-minded ABC and CBS news divisions. And finally, he will need to address the near-certain increase in confidence that Clinton supporters will feel as a result of his decision.
CNN and NBC combined to sponsor over half of the 2012 GOP presidential primary debates. If they are no longer eligible that leaves ABC, CBS, and Fox News. Clearly Fox News, which hosted 20% of the 2012 GOP primary debates, would receive a greater share, and given the network's noted conservative stance, it could be accused of the same type of bias that Priebus accused NBC and CNN of. Only the bias is in favor of the GOP. How is that "the right thing to do for the voters"?
The right thing to do for the voters would be a format that allows for more point-counterpoint interaction between the candidates, but absent that, a format that ensures the candidates would have to stray from their comfortable campaign talking points would be what's best for the voters.
For example, a format that pitted the GOP candidates against antagonistic progressive talking heads like Jon Stewart, Chris Matthews, Bill Maher, Rachel Maddow, and Ezra Klein would be an exciting way to hold a televised debate. Similarly, the Democratic candidates should have to confront leading conservative pundits such as Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham, Charles Krauthammer, and Bill Kristol.
Not only would that make for good theater, it would ensure that neither party would be guilty of stacking the deck in favor of its candidates. The candidates would have to leave their comfort zones and confront pundits that openly disagree with them on the issues.
And what of ABC and CBS?Each of these stations is perceived as being liberal. The GOP avoided CBS like the plague in 2012 and undoubtedly ABC would use George Stephanopoulos, a former member of President Bill Clinton's inner circle, as the host of its sponsored debate. Stephanopolous ruffled the feathers of former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012, and it is hard to imagine he would go any easier on the 2016 candidates. On MSNBC's Morning Joe Priebus said "I have to choose moderators that are actually interested in the future of the Republican Party and our nominees." To stay consistent with that statement would require Priebus to demand that Stephanopoulos be excluded from hosting any ABC-sponsored events — a request that would surely be rejected by the network.
Clinton supporters will no doubt be heavily emboldened to step up efforts to ensure her candidacy, perceiving a weakness in the RNC's hasty decision. Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist, told ABC's This Week, "If Hillary gets into the race, there will be a coronation of her because there are so many Democrats who last time supported her who I think are anxious to see her back out there again."
Rather than asking for script approval or demanding free rebuttal advertising time, Priebus chose to use political blackmail to pump up his base. If Priebus and the RNC are so concerned about a project that hasn't even been scripted then they surely have some real concern around a Clinton candidacy. That's good news for Clinton, who remains the most nationally popular Democrat in America.
Priebus acknowledged the growing concern over Clinton when he told Bloomberg News that the potential of a Clinton candidacy is like "small wave far from the shore, it builds and builds and builds."
Clinton supporters should float a scenario in which Bill Clinton is on the ticket as vice president. That would really generate a tidal wave if not a tsunami of concern, and then the unscripted NBC and CNN projects on Hillary would be the least of Priebus' worries.