THE BLOG

The GOP Needs a New Publicist

08/09/2013 06:00 pm ET | Updated Oct 09, 2013

You would have thought that the Republicans had learned a lesson from the election of 2012. Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA) said "We have to stop being the party of stupid." They had seminars and meetings where they concluded they needed to become more inclusive of minorities and women and even gays.

But alas, old habits are hard to break. Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Reince Priebus recently announced that Republicans would penalize CNN and NBC by banning them from GOP primary debates if they proceed with planned entertainment programs on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's life.

Really? This looks bad on all levels. Firstly, it borders on taking away the First Amendment's free speech. Secondly, the timing is a little strange because Hillary Clinton has not even announced she is running for president.

Furthermore, it assures that the Republican party will once again be pandering to their own base with only GOP-friendly moderated debates (effectively shutting out many independents and minorities that they pledged to reach out to.)

Priebus went so far as to tell host Mika Brzezinski on MSNBC's Morning Joe that he did not want her moderating a GOP debate because she was not interested in the future of the Republican party. Really?

He may have forgotten that the problem with the 2012 GOP debates was not the mainstream media (many of those "gotcha questions" were asked by Fox News) but rather the quality of the candidates and the mean spirited audiences that booed a gay soldier and cheered executions.

But no, it is easier to go after the media and claim to be victims of not having their message delivered. Never mind that the message of being anti-Obama, anti-jobs bill, anti-climate change legislation, anti-Latino, anti-women, anti-gay, anti-health care, anti-gun control, anti-abortion, anti-lower student loan rates, anti-food stamps, and even anti-FEMA aid might be unpopular with the general public.

It's not as though the GOP has not tried to learn from the Democrats. At first they thought that a long and drawn-out 2008 primary fight between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would be good for the Republicans as it would tear the Democratic party apart and cause them to use up all their resources. (Hence, Rush Limbaugh began "Operation Chaos" where he convinced his supporters to vote for Hillary in Democratic primaries to lengthen the primary season.)

However, this backfired when the process actually allowed all of the states to become engaged in the Democratic primaries (Pennsylvania actually mattered that year). Both camps created ground offices and featured rallies with the candidates that energized the base that helped in the general election. The many primary debates created more visibility and the fight between the first African-American man and first woman potential nominee captured the nation's imagination.

So, the Republicans then decided to imitate the Democrats and they expanded their nominating process by changing the rewarding of delegates to a percentage of the vote (as the Dems did in 2012) rather than the winner takes all. Then they programmed a massive number of debates.

Needless to say, this strategy backfired as the debates turned off voters (even as the ratings were high) and the primary season droned on and on as one after another frontrunner took on the eventual nominee, Mitt Romney. The way it turned out it seemed Romney eventually won by default.

The thing the GOP did not take into account is that the Democratic primary season eventually helped President Obama because of the graciousness of his opponent, Hillary Clinton, in giving him her whole support thus uniting the party after a long, sometimes tempestuous battle. This did not happen in 2012 with the GOP and Governor Romney.

The Republican Convention seemed like a disparate bunch of individual-minded politicians all pushing their own stories and agenda. We never learned much about Mitt Romney nor heard much support for his message (whatever it was.)

Now, the RNC is acknowledging the 2012 primary season did not help the candidate and are attempting to cut back the number of debates (and banning CNN and NBC which they consider Dem-friendly.) But I believe they are once again miscalculating. Since President Obama had no challengers there were no 2012 Democratic primary debates but that will not be the case in 2016. The Republicans will be competing with the Dems for ratings. Cutting back coverage and the number of debates may not be the way to go.

Also the RNC chair would be considered a bad publicist if the GOP were an entertainment industry (there are similarities between the two and the Dems are winning that battle with its celebrity President). Although many from the right criticized President Obama's latest visit to the Tonight Show, maybe the GOP could learn about reaching regular Americans from the President.

The phrase in Hollywood is "All publicity is good publicity." Although it may seem good for base politics to go after Hillary Clinton and CNN and NBC, the controversy will draw attention to the NBC Clinton mini-series and CNN documentary thus boosting the ratings.

Once again, the GOP is operating in their own little world (also known as the Fox bubble) unaware of another base of voters that showed up in 2012 for President Obama. My hunch is that these voters will not be impressed by the RNC's borderline cowardice in attempting to limit the electorate's participation in the primary process. Just as voter suppression backfired in 2012, I predict so will network banning. Time to fire the publicist.