Roger Simon: Some in GOP want fewer debates, dumber reporters
December 21. 2013 7:42PM
I UNDERSTAND that politics is petty, vicious and disgraceful. I just don't want to take all the fun out of it.
The Republican Party is now considering changes in its rules to squeeze the last remaining pleasure out of politics.
According to Peter Hamby of CNN, a special party subcommittee is considering dramatically reducing the number of Republican debates and taking control over which journalists get to moderate them.
This is not being done in the name of reform. This is being done in the name of "let's stop kicking ourselves in the groin."
The theory goes like this: The more the public sees the potential Republican nominees for President the more the public tends to dislike them. One reason is that the potential Republican nominees dislike the potential Republican nominees.
In February 2012, Newt Gingrich, while running for the Republican nomination, said that Mitt Romney was "fundamentally dishonest" and "pro-abortion, pro-gun control and pro-tax increase."
Accusing a politician of being fundamentally dishonest is like accusing a ballerina of dancing on her toes. No big deal. But accusing a Republican of being for abortion, against guns and for taxes is serious stuff. Naturally, Romney had to prove that he was none of those things.
So every time Romney got attacked by his fellow Republicans, he had to move further to the right to get around them. Unfortunately, the people he had to get around included Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain. That was less like a presidential field and more like a therapy group.
In 20 Republican primary debates, the other candidates got a chance to pound Romney. But Romney also got a chance to introduce himself to the American people. Which was the problem. At a debate in December 2011, Romney decided that Texas Gov. Rick Perry had changed his position on something, and when Perry denied it, Romney said, "Rick, I'll tell you what." Then Romney stuck out his hand and said, "Ten thousand bucks? $10,000 bet?"
Good move, Mitt! Remind the American people that $10,000 is chump change to you! Remind people that you have $10,000 on you!
The debates were full of bad moments, especially for Perry, who was considered by the media to be an extremely formidable candidate until Perry got on stage and opened his mouth.
In one debate that many still remember, Perry could not name the third of three government agencies that he would shut down as President. He had a 53-second "brain freeze" on live television and ended up saying, "Whoops!"
It is worth keeping in mind that Perry was not asked to name the three agencies by any of the journalists on stage. Perry raised the subject himself and then just drew a blank. At the end of his terrible freeze, he grinned. Though the press eviscerated him, to many viewers it seemed like a perfectly human and genuinely funny moment.
Which is why the Republicans now want to make sure it never happens again.
According to CNN, one Republican source says there is a "heavy appetite" not just to severely reduce the number of debates, but also to control which journalists get to ask questions.
"There is definitely a consensus ... to have less debates and have control over how and who we have run our debates," the source said, "rather than just turning it over to X, Y or Z network and having a guy moderate who's going to just dog you for two hours."
This is in keeping with the most important principle of modern politicking: control. Keep the candidate "in the box" as much as possible (fewer debates, fewer news conferences), and make sure that you select a network and moderator that will be friendly and unchallenging.
The ideal 2016 debate, therefore, would go something like this:
Announcer: Coming to you live from the basement of Republican National Headquarters, an officially sanctioned debate moderated by Fox News Channel's Megyn Kelly!
Megyn Kelley: My first question is to the entire panel: Is Santa Claus white?
Ted Cruz: I don't know if he's white, but he sure is fat. Just like Chris Christie.
Chris Christie: How about I come over there and bust your kneecaps?
Rand Paul: I don't know if he is white, but I do know that he wants to cut the corporate tax in half to create millions of new jobs for the elves.
Rick Perry: There are actually three Santas. They are sometimes called the Three Wise Men. They are Donder, Blitzen and um, um... (53-second brain freeze).
Megyn Kelly: I think those are reindeer. But let me give you an easier question: What is your full name?
Rick Perry: James Richard . um . um . (53-second brain freeze).
Megyn Kelly: You can't remember your last name?
Rick Perry: Rick?
Megyn Kelly: That's your nickname. What is your last name, Gov. Perry?
Rick Perry: Governor?
Megyn Kelly: And that's all the time we have! Join us in six months for our final debate: "Democrats: Threat or Menace?"
In reality, the secret to choosing a winning nominee in 2016 is the same for both parties: It is not fewer debates or mushier journalists. It is stronger candidates.
So good luck with that.
Roger Simon is chief political columnist for Politico.