Did the RNC make the right decision?
Earlier this month Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus issued a threat to CNN and NBC after the two announced plans for separate media events centered on potential Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. CNN plans to produce a documentary on the former Secretary of State, which is scheduled to air in 2014 while NBC is working on a miniseries following the lift of Clinton, with actress Diane Lane in the lead role.
Priebus threatened both networks that if they continued with these projects no Republican primary debate would air on either’s family of networks. The grounds for this threat—which was later unanimously approved by the RNC—is that the two programs are tantamount to free advertising for a potential presidential campaign opponent.
The boycott may seem petty, but it is perfectly warranted. Every vote counts in a political campaign, and television ads can be vital tools to persuade voters; turn on the TV in any swing state during the summer of an election year and more than half the commercials are political in nature. Campaigns and the national committees of both parties pour money into television ads, so getting help from an outside source is always appreciated. This time, however, it is unfair. Say what you want about Citizens United, but that was a private lobby group that wanted to air a negative film about Hillary Clinton, while this is the channels themselves producing the programs.
A couple things can result due to the boycott, and all of them provide some benefit for the Republican Party. Removing potential debates from CNN and NBC, both channels that possess independent voters, will almost definitely cause viewership of the debates to drop. These debates will likely move to Fox News, a cable channel like CNN which some people may not even receive. Additionally, more than a handful of independent voters stay away from the very conservative Fox News (just as they stay away from the very liberal MSNBC). But fewer eyes on the debates could benefit potential candidates: not as many people would see the gaffes which inevitably occur during debates.
Another alternative is to simply eliminate debates which CNN and NBC would have aired. During the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, the Republican Party held twenty primary debates. Plenty of time for the candidates to browbeat each other and commit costly mistakes. Fewer debates means fewer possibilities for implosions like the ones Rick Perry sustained, which effectively torpedoed his bid for the nomination.
CNN and NBC are private organizations which can produce and air any programs they want. But they have no god-given right to air primary debates; that is up to the national committees of both parties to decide. Priebus and the RNC perceive that these two channels are aiding Democrats on the long road to the 2016 presidential campaign and therefore do not feel they deserve Republican debates. It is possible that this could come back to haunt the RNC (probably when a debate moderator asks, “Do you agree with the RNC’s decision to not give CNN and NBC any primary debates?”), but it is the right choice. Hopefully they stick to their resolve.