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August 15, 2013 12:08 PM The Hastert Rule Writ Large

By Ed Kilgore

The twin axioms at the very heart of the Republican Party’s current travails are (1) Republicans have failed in the past by listening to the siren songs of MSM respectability and “swing voter” appeal, and need to determine their own policies and strategies by themselves, and (2) as the conservative party, the GOP should be most concerned about maintaining fidelity to its “conservative principles,” as defined by “movement conservatives” who are the keepers of the shrines to St. Barry and St. Ronald and other martyrs to the Cause.

The first axiom is operationalized in Congress by the so-called Hastert Rule that forbids floor action in the House on legislation not pre-approved by a majority of Republicans. The second is less concrete, but underlies the demands of conservative activists, who frequently call themselves the party “base,” that they should have a disproportionate influence on Republican decisions.

Viewed from that perspective, there’s nothing surprising at all about this news from the Washington Examiner’s “Washington Secrets” column by Paul Bedard:

The Republican National Committee, already threatening to block CNN and NBC from hosting 2016 primary debates if they air planned features on Hillary Clinton, is also looking to scrap the old model of having reporters and news personalities ask the questions at candidate forums.
Miffed that their candidates were singled out for personal questions or CNN John King’s “This or That,” when he asked candidates quirky questions like “Elvis or Johnny Cash,” GOP insiders tell Secrets that they are considering other choices, even a heavyweight panel of radio bigs Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin.
They told Secrets that they are eager to bring in questioners who understand Republican policies and beliefs and who have the ability to get candidates to differentiate their positions on core conservative values.
The move comes as several conservatives are pressuring the party to have Limbaugh, Hannity and Levin ask the debate questions. “It makes a lot of sense. We’d get a huge viewership, they’d make a lot of news and maybe have some fun too,” said one of the advocates of the radio trio hosting debates.

The key point here is the ability of these kind of “moderators” (to use the unavoidable but unintentionally hilarious term) to “vet” candidates by forcing them to “differentiate their positions on core conservative values.” That could mean slicing and dicing the field according to position differences less ideological questioners don’t even understand (e.g., degrees of commitment to the more radical tenets of “constitutional conservatism” that imply abolition of church-state separation or a roll-back of all federal programs not explicitly authorized in the Constitution), or simply an emphasis on “issues” of particular importance to “the base” and pretty much no one else (e.g., Fast and Furious, “voter fraud,” “death panels,” Shariah Law, home-schooling, the gold standard and even “birtherism.”).

If there was some way for conservatives to restrict viewership of candidate debates to fellow-conservatives, I’m sure they’d be all for that, too. Limiting sponsorship of debates to conservative outlets is one way to move in that direction. But even as many conservatives tend to divide the electorate into productive and responsible wealth-creators like themselves, and those people who have have sold their right to vote in a corrupt bargain with secular-socialist elites, there’s a strong tendency to divide Republicans into the Elect and mere fellow travelers who don’t get the code and cannot be trusted. Rooting out the latter is an important part of the challenge of ensuring that the party doesn’t compromise with those people and their representatives in office. So the Hastert Rule and having people like Limbaugh and Hannity run candidate debates are all part of the same process of “taking back the country.”

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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