03/19/2014 03:27 pm ET Updated Mar 19, 2014

RNC Looking To 'Hand-Pick' Moderators For 2016 Primary Debates


Despite my arch take on the RNC's "one year after the autopsy" video yesterday, you can color me impressed with the way Reince Priebus and his fellows have moved to address one of things about the 2012 election season that was clearly sapping Americans' collective will to live: the long and inane season of primary debates that filled up the calendar from May of 2011 to February of 2012. During that period of time, there were 21 debates, not including things like the "Huckabee Forums" and Newt Gingrich's "Lincoln-Douglas" stunts.

This was a grim period for America. And with both parties potentially competing in open primaries, it opened the door for the 2016 primary season to feature anywhere between 30 and 40 debates. So credit to Priebus for doing something to reverse this trend before it got completely out of hand. Of course, Priebus is of the mind that it wasn't just the insane number of debates in 2012 that affected the GOP's fortunes in negative ways -- the people who moderated those debates were also not to his liking. So he's vowed to change the game.

As Politico's Katie Glueck reports, the RNC is seeking "its own 'hand-picked moderators' for the 2016 GOP presidential primary debates":

The party has sought to take more control over who moderates primary debates after last cycle, when a wide range of hosts lined up to run a slew of debates. Last cycle, the Commission on Presidential Debates tapped the moderators for the general election.

"I don’t know who it is," [Priebus] said, noting that he doesn't have a particular "list." "I think what I'm looking for, really, are people who actually do care about the party, the process, the candidates, but ... basically my biggest issue, quite frankly, is 23 debates. It's too many debates to have."

One might read that and come to the conclusion that Priebus is basically shrinking from a fight with a skeptical moderator. Well, it's not like the GOP primary candidates have had a rich recent history of sitting before Rachel Maddow and debating their differences. And they'll only be following the path blazed by Democrats: In 2007, the Democratic slate of primary contenders bailed on the chance to debate on Fox News.

Besides, the whole point of a primary debate is to reveal the distinctions between an array of conservative candidates for the GOP base. There's a good argument to be made that such distinctions get revealed in a more substantive way when the GOP field is pressed from the right, by partisans, than they otherwise would whilst playing patty-cake with the polite centrist posturings of CNN. (Speaking of, wouldn't it be nice if candidates like Gingrich weren't afforded the opportunity to yelp about media bias every time they got a question that displeased them? It would be a hard thing to do if the moderators were all conservative pundits and reporters.)

The plan to have debates with "hand-picked moderators" -- a goal that Politico directly attributes to the Republican National Committee -- may be concerning to some. If I'm one of those outside groups that haven't often seen eye-to-eye with the RNC over the past couple of years (I'm thinking Heritage, or Americans For Prosperity), I'd wonder if there's not a coming clash with the GOP establishment in the offing, and whether or not I'm going to get a seat at the moderators' desk. A year ago, Priebus suggested they might, offering, "I haven't figured out all the concepts ... I've certainly talked about non-news figures involved in the debates, even having, potentially, grassroots-type debates, having Lincoln-Douglas type debates, even having traditional news as well."

This new concept of "hand-picked moderators," at the very least, seems to be a shift in position.

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Conservatives Pointing Fingers