Whatever else GOP leaders have to say about their proposed ground rules for future televised debates, they can’t say they didn’t ask for the growing ridicule they are receiving coast to coast. It’s not just the political cartoons and late night comedians that are having a field day; the merriment is erupting at watercoolers nationwide, and now the empire strikes back in the form of journalists having their say. Some samples:
At The Washington Post, Catherine Rampell likens the candidates’ whinefest to Seinfeld’s “airing of grievances” at “Festivus” and adds.
Both the Republican National Committee and its mutinying candidates have explicitly expressed an aim to eliminate “gotcha” questions, with RNC Chairman Reince Priebus complaining that these “mean-spirited” questions have been “designed to embarrass our candidates.” As opposed to those kindly, softball questions designed to flatter them, as a more obedient press would presumably supply.
Don’t be surprised if next we hear of demands for soft-focus cameras, bowls of M&Ms with all the brown ones removed and requirements that questions begin with “if you please, your excellency…I can’t imagine this collective hissy fit and any resulting concessions from the networks boding well for the candidates.”
And while it’s easy to mock some of these demands as petty and prima-donnish, many of them suggest a more insidious strategy: a concerted effort to extricate as much independent journalistic influence from the democratic process as possible and essentially turn the Fourth Estate into a bunch of stenographers.
Also at The Post, Dana Milbank frames his column in the form of an ‘application’ to serve as the groveling moderator of the next GOP debate:
I feel passionately that a debate is neither the time nor the place for hard questions, and as debate moderator I will rigorously adhere to gentle and affectionate questioning…I will pipe in artificial applause of precisely the same pre-agreed length and decibel level for all candidates after all answers.
I will submit my questions in advance for pre-approval by the campaigns. No questions will be asked about women, racial minorities or any other issue that might cast the Republican Party in an unfavorable light. There will be no questions about any candidate’s past statements or actions, including but not limited to: bankruptcies, financial difficulties, missed votes and inconsistencies. Candidates will not be required to perform math or to provide supporting evidence for claims. Candidates will be seated in Barcaloungers. If candidates feel overheated, the moderator will fan them while they answer and provide them with their choice of lemon or cucumber ice water. I will begin each question with the phrase “Mother, may I,” and I will address candidates as “Your Excellency,” “Your Eminence” or another honorific approved by the campaigns.
The New York Times editorial board called the GOP debate proposals a “daffy document drafted by hotheads” and adds, “Doesn’t this list leave too much to chance? What about hiding dangerous extension cords beneath the carpeting? And shouldn’t those vying to lead the free world be protected from word association games or geography bee questions?”
Digby suggests at Hullabaloo that ‘Morning Joe’ co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski serve as the next moderators for the GOP debates, having recently verified their softball credentials with a fawning interview of the Koch brothers. Digby notes further, “See? Those Kochs are just nice middle of the road billionaires who are worried about income inequality. Their lifetime of libertarian law-of-the-jungle economics has always been in service of helping the poor…But seriously, I think Mika and Joe could do a terrific job with the debates. If they’re good enough for the Kochs, they should be good enough for Donald Trump and Ben Carson.”
Calling the GOP debate demands “hilarious,” New York Magazine media critic Frank Rich notes “if you look at their demands in this letter which they’re not even all agreeing to, they seem to have been drafted by Stalin” and “so tedious, it’s so fascistic really, no one will watch.”
Esquire’s Charles Pierce responds to Ted Cruz’s suggestion that right-wing commentator Mark Levin co-host the next GOP debate: “But Mark Levin? Abso-freaking-lutely. Mark Levin thinks Paul Ryan is a squish. Mark Levin wants the Constitution rewritten to eliminate the popular election of senators and so that states can nullify federal laws. Let Levin moderate a debate and he’ll push these clowns so far to the right that they’ll end up in Kazakhstan. I would buy a ticket to that debate. Hell, I’d rent a luxury suite. Do it, folks. A grateful nation will applaud you.”
At The Nation Joan Walsh agrees, and adds: “Let’s be clear: The Republican whining about debate moderation to date is pathetic. They smacked CNBC moderators like piñatas Wednesday night, and they’ve continued battering them through the week. You’ll recall that Donald Trump savaged Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly in the most sexist way after the first debate. These guys are first-rate cry babies, working the refs by crying “liberal media bias!” like conservatives have for going on 50 years.”
The Plum Line’s Greg Sargent tweeted, “Oh for God’s sake. Do they really think their voters are this moronic?” and a commenter, ydnas639 responds, “Batter up for nerf ball.”
Republican leaders have placed a risky bet that the ridicule they are receiving will be overshadowed by the benefit they will get if big media is intimidated and caves to their arrogant demands. My guess is that the “liberal media” whine won’t resonate with many new voters– they already had the votes of nearly everyone who believes it. Indeed, if the next GOP debate plays like a lapdog show, the ridicule will amplify and this silly gambit will produce a net loss of GOP supporters.