Conservatives can thwart GOP kowtowing to NBC, POLITICO

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The Reagan presidential library assumed it was a no-brainer, its Veterans Day announcement that next spring it will hold the first debate of the 2012 GOP primary season. After all, they had held the first debate of the 2008 cycle in May of 2007. But a number of conservative leaders, led by talk-radio host Hugh Hewitt, think its a lame-brainer because the debate is to be moderated by NBC and POLITICO, freezing out conservative media.

NBC moderated the 2007 debate, so what’s new? For one thing, since 2008 both NBC and POLITICO have moved to the left; invitations for appearances by conservatives like Hewitt have dried up. Hewitt is outraged that Republican primary debates are to be controlled by a MSM dominated by the big-government Beltway culture that was decisively rejected by voters in 2010. But L. Brent Bozell, President of the Media Research Center and conservative columnist, finds mindless continuity, “Every four years Republicans dutifully line up for debates moderated by liberal “moderators” except there’s nothing moderate about these moderators who mercilessly attack them. And when it’s over Republicans grouse at the unfairness of it all. Republicans are like cattle led to the slaughter, except cattle don’t have a choice, and Republicans have even less sense.”

A second concern is timing. In 2007, GOP legislative and political strategy was understandably dictated by the Bush White House so presidential hopefuls had few ways to demonstrate their mettle besides debating. Today, however, debates would only encourage Republicans to divide against themselves at a time when they should be uniting against the Obama-Reid-Pelosi axis for the inevitable 2011 confrontations. GOP leaders can show their stuff in 2011 by actually going out and leading, taking up the cudgels against Left-Democrats (including the MSM), rather than sparring with one another.

The debate project needs to be torpedoed. But even more important is addressing the underlying inferiority complex that produced it. Here’s an approach that does both.

The NBC-POLITICO project is one more symptom of the pathetically low self-esteem of establishment Republicans, whose sense of self-worth seems to depend on being petted by the MSM and who regard an endorsement by the New York Times as the highest possible honor. So we should not be surprised at a willingness in some quarters of the GOP to disregard the smashing victory of 2010 and migrate toward a policy of comfortable accommodation with the Democrats/MSM in 2011.

Counteracting this dysfunctional mindset requires a conservative intervention. Here’s one example.

Conservatives could sponsor a weekend convocation of activists, media, GOP leaders and presidential hopefuls in Washington, DC to be held after the new Congress has settled in, say late February or March. The purpose of this meeting would be to get all the players together to fine tune a game plan for 2011 and discuss strategy for 2012. As by-products of such a conference the normal defeatism of many Beltway Republicans would be stymied and the justification for the NBC-POLITICO debate eliminated.

Here are a couple of examples of the kinds of sessions that could be held.

One would be a series of issue-oriented meetings to give GOP congressional leaders, including House committee chairmen and Senate ranking members, an opportunity to thrash out detailed strategy with conservative activists and media, issue by issue. One format would be to have a panel comprising relevant congressmen, media and activists discuss an issue and accept questions from the floor.

Another set of meetings would be on the theme of “the way forward for 2012” each featuring a presentation by a GOP/conservative leader and perhaps questions from a panel of conservative journalists. This would give each presidential hopeful time in the spotlight without the adversarial context of a debate.

Equally as important as formal sessions would be casual opportunities for conservative activists, media and GOP leaders to connect with one another. Politicians would identify allies, journalists would line up interviewees and, hopefully, lines of communication would be opened up all around.

The MSM would be welcome as observers, but formal media participation would be conservatives-only. With the Beltway milieu dominated by journalists from the Washington Post, the New York Times and the oldline networks, it is important to impress on establishment Republicans that there is a whole matrix of conservative media that is ranked ahead of the MSM by the grassroots leaders who will actually determine the outcome of the 2012 GOP primaries.

We have outlined one approach; there are no doubt others. The important point is that there are powerful forces in the GOP establishment that are happy to be number two, fitting in with the Democrat/MSM establishment. Keeping the party oriented toward the conservatism that can make it number one will require periodic interventions. Preemptive action in 2011 will require a lot of effort but can preclude damaging intraparty fights in 2012.