On Friday, the Republican National Committee unanimously passed a resolution declaring it would boycott future presidential debates on NBC and CNN unless those networks dumped planned programs about Hillary Clinton.
NBC is planning a miniseries on the former secretary of State, while CNN will air a documentary about her. Following Friday's vote, most people seemed to think the party's move was at best strange, and at worst stupid, further alienating the GOP from the mainstream.
"CNN and NBC anchors will just have to watch on their competitors' networks," RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said Friday.
Cue the mockery on the left:
The GOP doesn't want you to vote, get health insurance or watch Hillary Clinton movies simply because they love freedom that much.
— LOLGOP (@LOLGOP) August 16, 2013
Republicans Sweep To Power On Strength Of Liberal Media Condemnation
— Simon Maloy (@SimonMaloy) August 16, 2013
"And now we go live to the first Republican debate of 2016. We'll turn it over to our moderator, Honey Boo Boo."
— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) August 16, 2013
Thinking outside the box plan for 2016 GOP convention is mo state fair rodeo. Strong synergy
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) August 16, 2013
While it's easy to tease the RNC for addressing this issue instead of focusing on major recommendations in the party's autopsy report like, say, winning over Latino voters, this was more than just a reactionary move.
An entire section of that same autopsy report focused on presidential debates, saying that "in recent years there have been too many debates, and they took place too early." To remedy that, the report said the number of debates should be cut in half.
Less glibly, the RNC did indeed cite a need to restore order to the debate process as a reason for Friday's vote. The resolution, in addition to knocking NBC and CNN, said the RNC "shall endeavor to bring more order to the primary debates and ensure a reasonable number of debates, appropriate moderators and debate partners are chosen, and that other issues pertaining to the general nature of such debates are addressed."
The RNC has wanted to nix some debates ever since the twenty-something installments last time around "created more bloodletting, division, and sometimes embarrassment for the party than enlightenment of voters," noted the Washington Examiner's Byron York.
"That was going to happen even if NBC and CNN had never announced plans for Hillary Clinton programs," he added. "And that is what today's resolution is really all about."
By slashing the number of debates, the party will also protect the nominating process from vocal fringe members who, party elders fear, could drag more moderate candidates to the right — or, in a nightmare scenario, win the primary, but then be doomed to a general election blowout.
As you may recall, the party is already having a bit of a problem keeping conservative and Tea Party-aligned members from making disparaging remarks about Latinos, publicly mulling Obama's impeachment over long-settled questions about his birth certificate, and threatening to close the government or trigger a potentially disastrous debt ceiling default because they can't accept the fact that ObamaCare is the law of the land.
Cutting debates limits the potential for insurgent candidates to gain much-needed exposure. The party even said as much in, yes, the autopsy report.
"It should be recognized that depending on a candidate's standing in the polls, some candidates will want to participate in an unlimited number of debates, as early as they can and as often as they can," the report says. "In order to have a process that respects a candidate's time and one that helps the Party win, the Party should create a system that results in a more rational number of debates." (Emphasis mine.)
The RNC voted last year at the Republican National Convention to change the rules governing delegate selection to make it even harder for insurgent campaigns to compete, a direct shot at former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). This is merely an extension of that same goal.
There are many legitimate points to be made against the RNC's vote. For one, Businessweek's Brendan Greeley astutely noted that the flap exposes a deeper problem for the RNC: The very fact that CNN and NBC are planning big specials on Clinton proves her enormous popularity.
And as Dylan Byers at Politico noted, the boycott may broaden the gulf between the GOP and Latino voters by excluding NBC's Telemundo and CNN Espanol.
Who moderates the 2016 debates instead of NBC and CNN could also be problematic. If Rush Limbaugh were to get the nod, the party would likely only push itself further and further into an insular corner.
But on a practical level, the RNC accomplished exactly what it already said it wanted to do: Limit the number of debates. Throwing some red meat to the party faithful with the Clinton/lamestream media bashing is only an added bonus.