Two sponsors, one debate, no candidates, and plenty of complaints

TWO SPONSORS, ONE DEBATE, NO CANDIDATES, AND PLENTY OF COMPLAINTS…. I continue to think speculation about the 2012 presidential race is kind of silly, but the fact remains that early in the new year, the GOP field will begin to take shape. And with that in mind, NBC and Politico announced two weeks ago that they will co-host the first debate for Republican presidential candidates in spring 2011 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif.

There are already complaints about the event, not because it’s launching the campaign so early, but because a growing number of Republicans disapprove of the media sponsors.

Disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, for example, proclaimed yesterday that he would refuse to participate if Keith Olbermann or Chris Matthews were asking questions of candidates. “I’d be glad to do it at the Reagan library but without the kind of Mickey Mouse questions asked by hostile news media,” Gingrich said.

This appears to be an increasingly common sentiment.

Conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt, in fact, penned a widely-circulated column in which he told probable GOP candidates to “just say no to Nancy Reagan”.

“Can we be honest? They are all liberals. All of them. Not one of the questioners that could or would be proposed by Politico or NBC would be remotely in touch with the cares, concerns, and passions of the GOP’s primary electorate,” wrote Hewitt.

The Daily Caller‘s report went on to note that Grover Norquist disapproves of “nitpicking from left-of-center journalists asking questions that will impress their fellow journalists.” Far-right activist Brent Bozell was similarly displeased: “When, oh when will Republicans learn? Every four years the presidential debate season takes place. Republicans dutifully line up for debates moderated by liberal ‘moderators’ except there’s nothing moderate about these moderators who mercilessly attack them.”

Just at the surface, blasting NBC News and Politico as “liberal” seems pretty silly. MSNBC has some liberal hosts in primetime, but NBC News itself doesn’t appear to have any political agenda to speak of. Politico, meanwhile, appears to me to lean pretty clearly in Republicans’ favor.

Indeed, in 2007, there was an NBC/Politico event, and the moderators were practically deferential towards the candidates, asking one softball after another.

That said, I don’t much care either way whether the event takes place, or whether anyone shows up. What’s more interesting to me is the competing partisan standards. A year before the 2008 presidential election, you may recall, Fox News was scheduled to host a debate for Democratic presidential candidates. The highest-profile Dems quickly balked at participating in an event aired and organized by a Republican propaganda outlet, and the debate was scrapped.

But it was the reaction from the right that stood out. Bill O’Reilly compared Democratic presidential campaigns to Goebbels; Mort Kondracke and Fred Barnes said Dems were guilty of “Stalinism”; and Fox News president Roger Ailes argued in all seriousness, “The candidates that can’t face Fox, can’t face Al Qaeda.”

And yet, here we are. Republicans are complaining about an NBC/Politico event, and at this point, aren’t facing any pushback at all.