Why We Should and Must Blame Reince Priebus For the CNBC Debate Fiasco

My friend and colleague (not to mention boss here at RedState) posted earlier today on why we should not blame the RNC and its chairman, Reince Priebus, for the travesty CNBC inflicted upon its viewers last night. As expected, Erick makes some very good points but I think he lets Preibus and company off too easy.

Let’s take a dispassionate look at what happened and what could have happened.

Priebus did a great job of pulling the debates together.

In 2012, we had a veritable Wild West of debates. My Cub Scout pack thought about inviting Rick Santorum to a debate hosted by our local public access cable channel. If he had accepted our invitation, then the front runners would have been press-ganged into participating so they couldn’t be accused of dodging a debate. But we could never contact him… it was his loss. Priebus pulling the campaigns together on this an bringing some discipline to what was a cross between an old-style county fair and a goat rope deserves credit.

Debates are a media property.

Once he pulled the campaigns together, Priebus had actually created a media property. He owned the property. He decided who would carry the debates and what price they would pay. He had a right to, in concert with the campaigns, decide the rules. This is very analogous to an NFL football, major league baseball, the various music award shows, etc.

The media get paid based on ad revenue.

There is no logical reason for the various media outlets to have any active role in the debate. Their people can provide the equivalent of color commentary and do before/after debate interviews but they should have zero role in crafting the questions, or asking the questions, or moderating the debate. The reason for that is simple: these clowns are not interested in moderating a debate. In all of the debates we have seen the media personalities inject themselves into the debate. Instead of an exchange of points of view between candidates FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE PUBLIC we have seen each of the debates hijacked by media “stars” who wanted to preen and show that they should be running for president. The FoxNews moderators, for instance, took up one-third of the total debate time talking.

The huge audience that tuned in to see the previous debates did so to see the candidates. They did not tune in to watch Megyn Kelly preen and Jake Tapper play gotcha. Those viewers generate ad revenue not the presence of Democrat and liberal moderators.

Priebus allowed the debates to be run as a promotion for media outlets.

There is no other way to characterize it. Our candidates were no more than a draw to raise the profile of various media personalities. Last night was particularly egregious because CNBC is a tiny and irrelevant outlet. Allowing CNBC effectively reduced the viewing audience for the debates. Priebus and the RNC would have done well to have hired a hard-nosed event promoter to negotiate for them.

 The debates are for GOP primary voters.

If you can’t understand that point then you shouldn’t be playing the game and I have a lot of doubt that Priebus understands that fact. The debates for the general election take place after we choose a candidate.

Now, I think the huge audiences, a lot of whom are not GOP primary voters, tuning in to view some sharp and attractive candidates is going to pay dividends downstream but the purpose of these debates is to allow the candidates for the GOP nomination to communicate with GOP primary voters.

The brand is Priebus’ responsibility.

Have you ever seen Terry Bradshaw referee a football game? No. Of course not. That’s because while Bradshaw can be engaging and knows the sport and even knows the rules of the sport, he is not a referee. Could the NFL allow Bradshaw to be a referee and offer commentary? Sure they could. But it would affect the brand, the credibility of the sport, and the income stream. Could you grab a random hipster crackhead and have him or her emcee the MTV awards? Sure. It might even be an improvement should Miley Cyrus be involved. But MTV chooses the emcee for its event because it has a brand and an image to protect.

It makes no sense for the head of the RNC to allow actively hostile persons to moderate the debate. It makes no sense to allow the room temperature IQs we saw last night ask inane questions. These actions affect our brand, they affect the perception of our candidates, and the form a dangerously ill-informed view of our principles.

What Priebus has done with the debates — all of them, last night was merely the most egregious in a shameful series of examples — is allow Terry Bradshaw, or last night Miley Cyrus, to referee/emcee his event. This is just a gross abrogation of responsibility and there is no excuse for it.

Priebus’ failure.

Preibus did one critical task very well. He managed to get seventeen campaigns to agree to act as a cartel for the primary debates. Where he failed was at every point after that. He basically has made the GOP primary debates a tool serving various media outlets rather that an event to showcase the candidates to voters. He did it unnecessarily because the tens of millions of viewers were drawn to the candidates not the media stars. He has allowed left-wing personalities to control the questions, and mischievous ones, like FoxNews’s cast, to do nothing but set one candidate against another in hopes of creating a headline.

This is not the way a serious party runs debates and Reince Priebus and the RNC need to get their act together and start viewing these debates as their property and a strategic asset for the party, not as a way to curry favor with irrelevant media figures.