It's been a couple of days since Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus threatened NBC and CNN, telling the networks they'll be excluded from hosting 2016 presidential candidate debates if they proceed with planned specials on Hillary Clinton. Yesterday, Priebus picked up some unexpected support from Media Matters.
But as the debate unfolded this week, the RNC chair sounded less like he wanted to exclude NBC and CNN from airing debates, and more like he simply wants fewer debates in general. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Jay Bookman flagged this interesting interview from Monday night.
For those who can't watch clips online, Priebus clearly believes NBC and CNN are "in the business" of "promoting the Democratic Party." He doesn't know whether the Clinton specials will be complimentary, critical, or some combination, but the RNC chairman said it "doesn't matter."
Note, however, that Priebus is also clearly focused on scaling back the debate schedule itself.
"Look, in a couple years ago, we had a 23-debate traveling circus, and I think it's time we cut out those people that are actually spending their time and money promoting our opponents. I'm not going to sit around and let it happen anymore. [...]"The party needs to control the debates and we need to make sure that we have rules in place that put forward a debate with a reasonable amount, a form with a reasonable amount of debates so our candidates can have reasonable exchanges. The problem we have now we have a bunch of moderators who are in the business of making news at the expense of our party and our candidates.... They pushed these candidates into positions in ridiculous hypotheticals that are never going to be reality. All they do is have a slice and dice each other for an entire year and my point is this, you know, we have to control the referees that we're bringing into our playground."Part of our problem before when you have 12, 20 people running for president, if 11 people raise their hand to any two-hour debate offered, then guess what, you've got a debate every two weeks and that's an unhealthy thing for our party."
Given comments like these, it's fair to ask how upset Priebus is about Clinton specials, or whether the specials are a convenient excuse to help Priebus' larger goal of few overall debates?
As for the substance of Priebus' complaints, I'm not unsympathetic to his concerns about an overly crowded debate schedule. If I were him, I suspect I'd want to crack down on the "23-debate traveling circus," too. For an RNC chair, every debate for presidential candidates is another opportunity to show a national television audience what's gone horribly wrong with your party.
I would, however, remind Priebus that blaming non-Fox networks for turning the debates into a freak show isn't entirely fair. He should probably start, for example, with the debates' audiences, not the debates' network sponsors.
For that matter, when Priebus talks about moderators pushing candidates on "ridiculous hypotheticals that are never going to be reality," it's immediately reminiscent of the moment when the entire GOP field was pressed on whether it would accept a 10-to-1 budget deal in Republicans' favor. The debate featuring this "ridiculous hypothetical" was hosted by Fox News.