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May 08, 2014 9:27 AM Debates as Pep Rallies

By Ed Kilgore

There’s an interesting section in an AP story by Philip Elliot today wherein the RNC’s preparations for the 2016 presidential cycle include restrictions on debates, which probably did get a little out of hand in their sheer number during the last cycle. But that’s not the problem party leaders have with them:

During the 2012 campaign, a proliferation of debates led to fatigue among campaigns and frustration among candidates. In all, 20 debates took place, but not all candidates participated in each….
In 2016, the goal would be for six to 10 debates before February or March 2016.
RNC officials also have been interested in having greater control over the format and moderators of the debates. A frequent complaint inside the RNC headquarters is that the 2012 primary moderators were more interested in talking about differences among candidates than helping voters rally behind a favored candidate.
If the RNC gets its way, moderators would agree to keep debates focused on topics Priebus prefers and avoid intraparty squabbling.

Huh. I didn’t know the purpose of presidential nominating cycle debates was “helping voters rally behind a favored candidate,” did you? Besides, I don’t remember the 2012 debates as featuring that much “intraparty squabbling.” A key moment in the early debates was when Tim Pawlenty refused the opportunity to follow up on his own description of the Affordable Care Act as Obamneycare. Rick Perry did indeed self-destruct during debates, but even his worst mistake—lecturing Republicans to have a heart in their attitudes towards undocumented workers—was an unforced error that nobody really jumped on until later. For a good while there, the main characteristic of Republican debates was the strange revival of Newt Gingrich’s campaign via his success in using the events to attack the moderators and the media generally. And the main source of fights among the candidates was always the presence of Ron Paul, who did indeed disagree with other candidates on foreign policy in a fundamental way.

So I don’t know exactly what Priebus and his minions are complaining about, or how they imagine debates functioning this time around. Do they want the candidates leading hand-picked audiences in chants of hate aimed at the moderators or at Democrats? Should Priebus himself just become Permanent Moderator of all the debates so that the “topics Priebus prefers” are the only ones mentioned? Guess we’ll have to wait and see.

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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