Tonight, at 8 p.m., on CNN, the Republicans in the race (Jon Huntsman excepted) will once again spar – this time, God help us, with Anderson Cooper, the man who distinguished himself by using the obscene expression teabaggers to describe the members of the Tea Party, moderating.
I have watched now the better part of at least three and possibly four debates, and I have been struck by the fact that virtually all of the people posing the questions or selecting which questions others are to pose are drawn from outfits that served in 2008 as part of what the good folks at Journolist referred to so brilliantly as Barack Obama’s “unofficial campaign.” To call Anderson Cooper a hack would be to dignify the man. What he is, is a flack.
I mention this – because it skews the debates. Mitt Romney gets a free pass. The conservative front runner gets ambushed in every debate – with Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum acting as proxies for the Romney campaign, and the moderators from the mainstream press doing the same. This has the virtue that the lead conservative is put through his paces, but it is designed to make sure that Romney is the last man standing.
This matters. It matters a great deal. Every election cycle, there is a new wrinkle – something that changes the pattern of the nominating process. This year, the new wrinkle is the frequency of the debates. This had the effect of promoting, then demoting Michele Bachmann and of promoting Herman Cain (who will, I suspect, soon be demoted). It ruined Tim Pawlenty, and it threatens to destroy Rick Perry’s campaign. I have no objection to there being debates. If Pawlenty and Perry cannot make their case, it is good to have this sorted out early before our eyes.
What I do object to is the fact that the process is carefully guided by the friendly folks at CNN, The Washington Post, and the like – which brings me to Peter Robinson. It is probably too late to do anything to change the trajectory this year. But four years from now Uncommon Knowledge and Ricochet could make a big contribution. We could be the new wrinkle.
The television networks are under threat. As a consequence of the development of the internet, we now have the capacity to sidestep the mainstream media, to sideline the main contributors to the Democratic Party’s “unofficial campaign,” and to take over the task of moderating one or more of the debates ourselves.
Imagine the following: a debate held at Hillsdale College, moderated by Peter Robinson assisted by one or more of the contributors to Ricochet, and streamed to the general public by way of Ricochet – a debate in which conservatives get to put the candidates to the test, a debate in which the format can be designed to probe deeply into the details of their proposals and the character of their record in the past.
So, Peter, the ball is once again in your court! You should have a chat with the folks at the Republican National Committee.
In the meantime, I do hope that someone – Newt Gingrich, perhaps – turns the tables on Anderson Cooper and asks him why he used the obscene term teabaggers to describe the Tea Party.