National Review’s Debate Problem

 

National-Review-Donald-Trump-CoverByron York, writing for the Washington Examiner, raises a serious problem surrounding the February 26 debate, which until recently was to be hosted by NBC in partnership with National Review. Following the embarrassment that was last week’s CNBC “debate”, Reince Priebus has called into question the involvement of NBC in this debate. National Review, however, will participate regardless.

“While we are suspending our partnership with NBC News and its properties, we still fully intend to have a debate on that day, and will ensure that National Review remains part of it,” Priebus wrote in a letter to NBC.

As the debate approaches, however, it’s likely that critics will raise questions about the participation of National Review, the venerable conservative publication, because of a number of comments made by its writers and editors about Donald Trump. (I should put in a disclaimer high in the story: I worked for National Review from 2001 to 2009 and know, like and respect many of the people involved in this matter.)

To put it mildly, a lot of NR writers don’t like Trump.

York goes on to list the slew of invective that NR writers have hurled Trump’s way since he came down that escalator in June. It’s colorful stuff. Williamson, et al., know how to land a rhetorical punch. (For someone who insults so liberally, Trump, on the other hand, boasts a rather meager arsenal — “over-rated” has been over-used.)

I am no fan of Donald Trump, but he should raise all hell about NR’s participation in this debate. Clearly, no one who has called a candidate “a witless ape” (Kevin Williamson), a “thin-skinned performance artist” (Charles Cooke), a “low rent carnival-barker” (Jonah Goldberg), or has said of Trump what Rich Lowry did say should have any pretension to journalistic detachment. Prior to Lowry’s vivid description of Fiorina’s smackdown of Trump, I had assumed he would be joining Chuck Todd and Co. at the debate. But he and the others now have as much business moderating a debate involving Donald Trump as Ann Coulter has moderating one involving Jeb Bush.

Lowry says that won’t be a problem come debate time. “We obviously have strong opinions and don’t hide them, but that won’t keep us from being tough but fair with everyone,” he told me in an email exchange.

Maybe so. But the aforementioned four, at the very least, have forfeited their right to show so and should recuse themselves from participating, as much as I’d love to see Jonah question Trump without pants on.

If NR hasn’t completely tarnished itself as an anti-Trump force, Jay Nordlinger would be an obvious choice. He’s one of the greatest interviewers in conservative media and, to the best of my knowledge, has refrained from insulting Trump, although he is an avowed Ted Cruz supporter.

Of course, NR could send someone not on their editorial board but loosely affiliated with the magazine to represent them. Say, how about the greatest interviewer in conservative media? Indeed, in last week’s podcast Peter unwittingly agreed to as much and formulated the first question he’ll be asking the candidates.

Someone make this happen already!

There are 41 comments.

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  1. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    I don’t agree.

    Virtually everyone else who has hosted these debates is as anti-conservative as NR is anti-trump. If anything, this might cause them to be less likely to make the debate a trump-driven clown show, as virtually every other msm outlet seems intent on doing. I’m all in favor of it, and I think they are the most likely out of anyone to give us a good debate on substantive issues.

    In fact, having the thing run solely by NR is about the only way I would bother to watch.

    • #1
  2. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    Newsflash: Conservative publication disapproves of RINO!

    That said, debate moderation does raise some question of neutrality — though NR shouldn’t be penalized for being open about their bias, and as a conservative I’m reluctant to lose the opportunity to hear questions asked by conservatives because conservatives tend to not prefer one less-conservative candidate.

    But they have some more reporter-type people whom I think could be presumed to be fair. I think David French has been milder on the rhetoric, too. Mark Krikorian has been semi-positive towards Trump, I believe.

    Or they could just let Mark Levin in for a couple questions to balance it out.

    Or let Trump boycott. That would drive down ratings. Whatever. It would let us learn something from the rest of the candidates.

    • #2
  3. Freeven Inactive
    Freeven
    @Freeven

    My take is that it’s all theater. The Priebus threats are for show. NBC will make some minor concessions and promise to be good and Priebus will claim victory. Then the “debate” will proceed pretty much as it would have. As for the NR moderators, they are more apt to over-correct than display bias. That’s what conservatives do.

    • #3
  4. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    @Freeven: exactly.

    Of course, I think FOX overcorrects, some, but because it isn’t unabashedly left wing, it is skewered by the left as being as biased as they all are.

    Point being, we cannot win media wars because the left is dishonest and proud of the fact. So, let the debates be for us, and let us actually learn something.

    • #4
  5. Michael S Inactive
    Michael S
    @user_542832

    I would also be happy to see NR remain part of the debate. They would over-correct and be fair to Trump, even if it were Lowry or Goldberg asking the questions. But if there’s one thing we know, it’s that Trump won’t stand idly by and let the debate happen as planned. Unless he falls dramatically in the polls between now and then (in which case I doubt he’d still be in the race), the debate organizers will sooner acquiesce than risk a Trump boycott, which would badly harm ratings and the debate’s credibility.

    • #5
  6. Parthian Shot Inactive
    Parthian Shot
    @ParthianShot

    Jonah Goldberg would finally have a reason to break out that spaghetti strainer codpiece

    • #6
  7. Casey Way Member
    Casey Way
    @CaseyWay

    The fact that there are concerns about ratings concerns me. This is not a season finale or a playoff game; this is a presidential debate. It is ideal that more voters watch and are engaged but it is not necessary. If the debates happen, they will be covered by the media in some way to get to the greater public. Let’s have the most substantive discussion of the issues possible regardless of the real-time viewers.

    • #7
  8. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Michael S: Clearly, no one who has called a candidate “a witless ape” (Kevin Williamson), a “thin-skinned performance artist” (Charles Cooke), a “low rent carnival-barker” (Jonah Goldberg),

    All accurate, however.

    • #8
  9. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Donald Trump is not conservative. Like him or hate him, he to the left of the rest of the group.

    He is also a jerk by any objective standard of the word “jerk”.

    Now, his supporters may not care on either case. That is their right.

    Personally, I would love the four people mentioned as moderators. Bring them on.

    I’d bring up wanting Charles and George, but I think the Trump supporters have written them off already too, right?

    • #9
  10. Polyphemus Inactive
    Polyphemus
    @Polyphemus

    I see no problem as well.  I think this is a chance to say “screw you” to the legacy media. I also don’t care if Trump boycotts. It will show all but his fanboys what kind of “brave” and “courageous” he really is. It may serve to marginalize him a bit. It is the right time for the idea of NR running the debate for the Republican candidate.

    • #10
  11. Dick from Brooklyn Thatcher
    Dick from Brooklyn
    @DickfromBrooklyn

    Michael S: As the debate approaches, however, it’s likely that critics will raise questions about the participation of National Review, the venerable conservative publication, because of a number of comments made by its writers and editors about Donald Trump. (I should put in a disclaimer high in the story: I worked for National Review from 2001 to 2009 and know, like and respect many of the people involved in this matter.)

    This is why Ricochet should lead the way by proposing debates that are: 
    (a) hosted by a consortium of three conservative media outlets – center, squish and paleo;

    (b) recorded asynchronously with candidates isolated from the audience and each other;

    (c) premiered in real time online on YouTube as a channel or a playlist; and

    (d) made available for rebroadcast in whole or in part by any television network.

    Don’t worry. We’ve got our best guy on it :) but while we are innovating – how about replacing the RNC and the campaign managers with an app? 

    • #11
  12. Solon JF Inactive
    Solon JF
    @Solon

    This is what Trump gets for picking fights with the people from arguably the most prestigious conservative media outlet.  Too bad too sad for him.  He should have known this would all come back to bite him.

    • #12
  13. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    A ricochet debate…

    I think NR should be asking Peter to moderate, anyway.

    or Senik. Seriously, is there anyone who would be better than Troy?

    • #13
  14. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    Parthian Shot:Jonah Goldberg would finally have a reason to break out that spaghetti strainer codpiece

    You’ve apparently not seen Goldberg After Hours.

    • #14
  15. Stan Hjerleid Inactive
    Stan Hjerleid
    @StanHjerleid

    Frank Soto: All accurate, however.

    Really? A cheap shot.

    • #15
  16. Salvatore Padula Inactive
    Salvatore Padula
    @SalvatorePadula

    To the extent that NR’s editorial stance being anti-Trump is a problem it would be easily solved by having Eliana Johnson (who does straight journalism).

    • #16
  17. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Stan Hjerleid:

    Frank Soto: All accurate, however.

    Really? A cheap shot.

    Let us review the record of Trump

    Has only recently changed his stances to be conservative.  On nearly every issue he believed the opposite a mere two years ago.

    When pushed on any given issue, has no idea what he is talking about. When questioned on his immigration plan as it relates to h1b visas, he talked about his plan as doing the opposite of what it does.  That is because he just took Jeff Session’s plan, stuck it on his website, and knows nothing about it.  You think he is tough on immigration, but he was in favor of amnesty just 2 years ago.

    The man is just parroting lines that he knows people want to hear. He doesn’t believe any of it.  When asked for specifics, he fails every test of conservatism.  Remember when he was extolling the virtues of using eminent domain for real estate projects?

    • #17
  18. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    This kerfuffle about NR would have blown up if not for Priebus’s epic rear-covering maneuver. CNBC already had ignored the terms of the agreement by not including a conservative partner. If that was an issue, why wasn’t a stink raised ahead of time?

    He’s only responding because he caught heat. Even worse, he’s solving a problem that doesn’t need solving. Was Priebus mortified by the candidates’ performance? Almost everyone did well…except for the two candidates who took the moderators’ bait to attack their fellow debaters.

    • #18
  19. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    Michael S: Clearly, no one who has called a candidate “a witless ape” (Kevin Williamson), a “thin-skinned performance artist” (Charles Cooke), a “low rent carnival-barker” (Jonah Goldberg), or has said of Trump what Rich Lowry did say should have any pretension to journalistic detachment.

    Trump gave as good as he got in many of those exchanges, and he initiated some of them. Also, they don’t have the detachment pretension. All are controversialists in their own right, not straight journalists.

    What did Trump think they’d do, write a 2000 word chin-stroker?

    • #19
  20. Paul Dougherty Member
    Paul Dougherty
    @PaulDougherty

    Frank Soto:

    Michael S: Clearly, no one who has called a candidate “a witless ape” (Kevin Williamson), a “thin-skinned performance artist” (Charles Cooke), a “low rent carnival-barker” (Jonah Goldberg),

    All accurate, however.

    I would quibble with the low-rent part.

    • #20
  21. Matt Upton Inactive
    Matt Upton
    @MattUpton

    So are we limited to conservative media outlets that don’t publish opinion pieces? Is there one with an editorial board that favors Trump, Rubio, and Carson? If a an outsider candidate continuously insults–not criticize, insults–the conservative press, should he be surprised when he finds them insulting back? (Nietzsche, abysses, etc.).

    Besides, the true worry is that NR would too little influence on the debate format and questions with their media partner (whomever that may be).

    • #21
  22. Jim Kearney Contributor
    Jim Kearney
    @JimKearney

    Why was NR was included? Probably to offset the hard left questions likely forthcoming from NBC. These debates need a platform for easy, mass TV distribution. NR doesn’t have that. They’re not Rush. They’re not Fox.

    So what’s NR’s value-add? Doing their own John Harwood-Candy Crowley imitation, but firing from the other side of the road?

    Donald Trump has no reason on earth to stand in front of NR’s firing squad. He likes to be the one doing the firing.

    • #22
  23. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Jim Kearney: Donald Trump has no reason on earth to stand in front of NR’s firing squad. He likes to be the one doing the firing.

    We can only hope he refuses to.  Fewer clowns on stage would be useful.

    • #23
  24. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Dick from Brooklyn: (b) recorded asynchronously with candidates isolated from the audience and each other;

    I like your proposal a lot, but why this?  It would be incredibly sterile and possibly jarring as the view changes between candidates.  It would probably come across as “weird” to anyone who watched it.

    • #24
  25. Mark Krikorian Contributor
    Mark Krikorian
    @MarkKrikorian

    It seems unlikely that Jonah or Kevin would be the NR rep among the debate moderators anyway. I assume there’s only going to be one from NR, and the obvious choices are Jim Geraghty or Ramesh Ponnuru, neither of whom has said anything inflammatory about Trump that I can recall.

    • #25
  26. Roadrunner Inactive
    Roadrunner
    @Roadrunner

    Frank Soto: We can only hope he refuses to. Fewer clowns on stage would be useful.

    If you get rid of all the clowns it will be an empty stage.  That would be preferable.  Maybe we have Paul Singer give a statement of his vision for the United States and skip the foolishness from his paid lackeys.

    • #26
  27. Metalheaddoc Member
    Metalheaddoc
    @Metalheaddoc

    I think everyone from NR should be in the possible mix despite what they have written, as long as they declare their biases at the start of the debate. Don’t pretend to be objective journalists like the MSM. Just be out with their biases right up front and let the viewers judge them questioning accordingly.

    • #27
  28. Dick from Brooklyn Thatcher
    Dick from Brooklyn
    @DickfromBrooklyn

    Mark Wilson: I like your proposal a lot, but why this?  It would be incredibly sterile and possibly jarring as the view changes between candidates.  It would probably come across as “weird” to anyone who watched it.

    Perhaps, but with the appropriate common backdrop (easy) some fades in and out, transition graphics between candidates I think it could work fine. I’m sure that a video producer could also string all the clips together artfully and quickly. Think about how fast and sophisticated live sports production has become.

    • #28
  29. Johnny Dubya Inactive
    Johnny Dubya
    @JohnnyDubya

    My heart leapt with joy when you suggested Jay Nordlinger. I cannot think of a moderator who would be his equal except perhaps Peter Robinson, so by all means, let’s have ’em both.

    • #29
  30. Sabrdance Member
    Sabrdance
    @Sabrdance

    We need an Uncommon Debate.  Peter!  Set it up!

    • #30

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