What should conservatives do? Start with the debates. Conservatives probably cannot expect to face moderators who don't have Democratic politics on their resume, from Tim Russert to George Stephanopoulos to Chris Matthews to even Brian Williams (if you count being an intern in the Carter White House). This should not necessarily be a disqualifier. Let's remember that some anchors without party jobs in their past (Jim Lehrer and Gwen Ifill, both of PBS) have regularly leaned left in their debate performances. But Republicans and conservatives ought to be more forceful in demanding fairness and balance in the questioning these moderators provide.
The first line of defense has to come from the contenders themselves. On several occasions in the GOP debate, Mitt Romney mildly protested the premise of liberal questions that emerged. Chris Matthews asked, with a straight face: "Would it be good for America to have Bill Clinton back living in the White House?" "You have got to be kidding," Romney replied, a good answer that exposed this for what it was: a question straight from the liberal template.
The Washington Post refugees at Politico.com asked Romney another loaded question: "What do you dislike most about America?" One might argue that the ex-Posties were merely forwarding the Voice of the People, but of course they're choosing from a flood of e-mails, and to select something that dopey reeks of bad, and partisan, judgment. Can you imagine the uproar if Fox asked Howard Dean that one in the 2004 cycle?
Next, the GOP debate negotiators should start playing hardball and protesting up front when potential moderators are suggested. They ought not to suggest, but demand, a Brit Hume or a Chris Wallace as moderators. Further, they ought to do more to press for a panel of questioners to allow more diversity in questioning.
In fact, why don't the Republicans just have a presidential debate on radio with talk-show host moderators? Invite Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and so on to be the questioners. Why do Republicans always insist on playing by liberal media rules, on their field?
Finally, Republicans should mock the Democratic withdrawal from Fox with a loud, continuing question: How will Hillary and Co. handle Osama bin Laden when they don't have the courage to handle questioning from Brit Hume?
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