The GOP Only Hurts Itself By Walking Away From Tough Debates

Given the uproar within the conservative media world about the supposedly unfair CNBC debate, it’s understandable that the RNC would have to do something lest it lose what little credibility it still had with the GOP base. So Reince Priebus has pulled out of the debate partnership with NBC, even as the candidates themselves have started to form a weird pact to insulate themselves from future debates of that nature.

The problem for the Republican Party and its candidates is that while some of the questions may have been phrased a little rudely (“what is your greatest weakness?” and “comic book version of a presidential campaign” may have gone a little far in the tone department), the questions themselves were both substantive and accurate. This is has been pointed out again and again: Brian Beutler noted it at The New Republic, Ezra Klein explained it at Vox, and Charles Pierce had his own colorful version at Esquire.

The problem with the CNBC debate for Repbulicans wasn’t that a bunch of “flaming liberals” (in the words of the incomparably ghoulish Charles Krauthammer) asked them unfair questions. CNBC is, after all, the slavishly pro-Wall Street greedhead network that employs Rick “Tea Party” Santelli, Larry Kudlow and similar characters. It was that the moderators treated unserious falsehoods as, well, unserious falsehoods, from the candidates’ budget-busting regressive plans counting on phantom supply-side growth to their denials of unsavory records and associations.

So the RNC has decided to work the refs and refuse any similar debates, rather than suggest that their candidates might want to be less openly silly and unserious.

But this only hurts the Republican Party going forward. In a general election, the Democratic Party and its allies will not be shy about pointing out the weaknesses of the eventual nominee and their policy positions in the strongest possible terms.

One of the chief goals of a presidential primary is to test candidates’ weaknesses and potential general election attacks against them. On the Democratic side, that means that Clinton’s trustworthiness and Sanders’ use of the socialist label are both fair game. Democratic primary voters have a vested interest in seeing how their candidates handle those issues in a trial run before the big event.

Republicans seem to be more interested in isolating themselves from any exposure to policy reality, preferring to scream about the “liberal media” (at CNBC!) whenever anyone suggests that, for instance, handing out trillions in tax breaks to the rich just might increase budget deficits.

That will only come back to hurt them worse starting in June of next year when the real games begin.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.