According to Ted Cruz, the problems with Republican debates could be fixed if they were hosted by committed conservatives, people whom Cruz calls “real journalists” such as talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin. As Cruz argues, questioners like that would “help conservatives make a decision who’s going to be the best and strongest conservative to represent us and win.”
I would not only watch such a debate, I think it might do the country a great favor. (Heck, let’s throw in Glenn Beck and Laura Ingraham as well.) Under Cruz’ proposal, the people who actually set the conservative agenda would be able to hold conservative candidates publicly accountable to that agenda on behalf of the conservative base. Everything would be within the conservative bubble, with no inconvenient truths allowed to penetrate. And the rest of us would get to see which — if any — of the Republican candidates were brave enough to dissent from that version of reality.
I know what you’re thinking: Two whole hours of wallowing in Benghazi, Lois Lerner, Fast and Furious, Second Amendment remedies, Sharia law and other right-wing obsessions with no obvious relevance to important issues? Yes, exactly. Maybe we’d get to hear Limbaugh rail about that femi-Nazi Hillary and her cankles. And I’d love to see Levin press Jeb Bush and others for their ideas on how to stop President Obama from “building the Iranian Islamo-nazi caliphate” that Obama so clearly desires.
If we really got lucky, some “real journalist” might even pose a hard-hitting question such as “Why does Ted Cruz love America?”
Look, CNBC moderators did a poor job last week of framing questions and controlling the debate. They were inexperienced and out of their depth for the most part. But let’s be honest. You can’t have Ben Carson and reality-star Donald Trump as the leading candidates for your party’s nomination and then blame the media when your debates turn into a circus. It was a circus already, and the lack of seriousness did not originate with the moderators. You also can’t insist on having 10 candidates on the stage, limit the broadcast to two hours and then complain afterward that some participants didn’t get enough time, as Republicans are now doing.
With our national attention span now about the length of the news cycle, I know it’s hard to recall way back in August, when Fox News moderators also got slammed by conservatives for asking questions that were too tough or confrontational. Cruz was asked how such a divisive figure could ever be elected president. Trump was asked why he verbally abuses women, Carson was confronted about his basic ignorance of public affairs and Chris Wallace and his colleagues tried repeatedly to goad Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio and then Bush and Trump into confrontations. Were those liberal questions or merely tough questions? Within the conservative bubble, is there a distinction?
We also heard the same whining from Republicans four years ago about debates making their candidates and party look bad. Remember the infamous “raise your hands” question about tax hikes and spending? That too came from a Fox News debate, asked by conservative journalist Byron York. And of course there was 2008, when a certain candidate for vice president was asked the “gotcha” question about which newspapers and magazines she read, as if it was unfair to pose that query to someone potentially one heartbeat from the presidency.
Different election cycles, different networks, different moderators, different candidates, but all with the same outcome: Republicans feeling themselves persecuted and “betrayed,” as RNC chair Reince Priebus put it last week. They tried changing the rules this time around before the debate season even began, at Priebus’ insistence, but that didn’t change things either.
It almost leads one to believe there might be some other sort of problem.