Debating the GOP Debates: John Thune Weighs In

Hugh Hewitt
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Posted: Jan 27, 2011 9:31 AM

NBC and Politico.com want the ratings bump that will come from hosting the first debate among Republican presidential contenders.

So they issued a diktat that such a debate would occur and that it would be held on May 2. The instructions to the GOP included notice that the guys in charge of the questions would be Brian Williams and John Harris.

The proposed location is the Reagan Library which of course makes the proposed event seem a natural for the candidates who seek to lead the party that President Reagan rescued and revitalized. No GOPer has yet yielded to NBC’s demand, and some, like Senator John Thune, have voiced reservations. (The transcript of Thune’s comments on my January 26th radio show is here. Note to Beltway folks: The program is now heard on D.C.’s AM 1260 WRC live from 6 to 9 PM.)

NBC is of course the hard-left network, with State of the Union coverage conducted by a committee of Larry O’Donnell, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews and the sports guy from Montana. Matthews, fresh from a Michele Bachmann-fueled broadcast bender and a briefing from Obama guru David Plouffe, relayed word that the panel should not be upset that gun control was absent from the SOTU. The four horseman of the Obamalypse formed ranks and went off to savage the GOP.

The network that demands it mediate the first big event in the GOP nominating process is avowedly partisan, which is fine. But start with the obvious: Matthews is possessed by an unhinged hatred of Michele Bachmann – and Bachmann will almost certainly be on any podium that includes GOP candidates. Brian Williams and other NBCers cannot be expected to be unaffected by the venom towards Bachmann and other Republicans that continues to flow strongly through the veins of NBC, even after Olbermann’s abrupt canning. No other business in the world would presume to brand itself as “anti” something and then seek credibility as the judge of the products it is designed to destroy.

Politico.com is nowhere near as left wing as NBC, but the web portal has traveled steadily left in the years since it opened shop. Take Politico.com reporter John Allen, for example. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz did. Allen left Politico to go to work for Schultz, one of the left’s most combative, effective and entertaining pugilists. Allen got some training and experience and then came back to Politico, where I am sure his ideology doesn't impact his reporting.

The point is that there are far better moderators available for GOP candidate gatherings.

“[Y]ou would think,” Senator Thune said to me, “that in a Republican nominating process, that you would have journalistic organizations that might be a little bit more objective in there hosting the first debates.”

Any number of center-right journalists are available to moderate gatherings of the GOP in the early stages of their campaign. Fred Barnes, Bill Bennett, Charles Krauthammer, and George Will represent four different news organizations and each bring enormous credibility to their work at The Weekly Standard, Townhall.com, the Washington Post and ABC respectively. I have previously argued that the ranks of the radio talk show hosts are full of accomplished journalists and three of us –Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin, and me—are among the few journalists today who can not only debate the Constitution with you but who have argued cases before the federal courts of the United States and worked at the Supreme Court the Department of Justice and the White House Counsel's office. The three of us asking questions about judges and the DOJ would easily be among the most qualified panel ever assembled on the subject to pose queries on the courts to the candidates. If Michelle Malkin, Glenn Reynolds, John Hinderaker and Ed Morrissey assembled to pose questions, the new media of the center-right so responsible for the renewal of the GOP would be asking the questions, not the hallmates of Chris Matthews who hear the screaming all day every day.

There are presently five Republicans who are not only "all-but-declared" but also plausible nominees with a path to the nomination: Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and John Thune. Others may declare and join them in the intersection of ambition and possibility, including Michele Bachmann, Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin and Mike Pence.

The first five ought to empower new RNC Chairman Reince Preibus to establish a set of forums/debates, beginning in the late summer or fall, and staffed by journalists who won’t be seeking to destroy any particular candidate but to illuminate the choices for GOP voters. The first such gathering ought to be at the Reagan Library, and after a set of these, Preibus ought to facilitate the vigorous participation of MSM, including even the hysterical Matthews, as any GOP nominee will have to be able to deal with the Obama cheering section throughout the campaign.

But all the candidates and the party ought to adopt the title of Mitt Romney’s new book as a working philosophy of media relations for the campaign ahead:

No Apologies.

There is no reason to turn over the early meetings of the candidates to the machinations of avowedly hostile, ideologically-driven anti-Republicans, no reason to apologize for defending the early gatherings from MSM-manipulation. The first GOP candidate to declare this obvious truth will win the admiration of many Republican voters long frustrated by the decrepit monopoly of old media liberals on the debate process.

If it is ratings you are looking for, ask Rush to moderate the first debate.