The Washington Examiner's Paul Bedard writes today that the Republican National Committee is looking to "scrap the old model of having reporters and news personalities ask the questions at candidate forums" for the 2016 Republican presidential primaries. Apparently the RNC is weighing the idea of replacing those debate moderators with "heavyweight" conservative radio personalities like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Mark Levin. Given that this is all based on anonymous sourcing and that this is coming from Paul Bedard, who will print pretty much anything, I encourage you to please accept this grain of salt. However, the prospect of Hannity or Limbaugh in the debate moderator's chair has already received favorable reactions from the highest levels of the RNC, to include chairman Reince Priebus, who called it "a very good idea."
It's possible that Priebus et. al. are just humoring the supporters of this idea, but if they are in fact considering a debate format moderated by talk-radio blowhards, that's a pretty clear sign that the much-ballyhooed Republican "rebranding" document that the committee put out earlier this year is, for all intents and purposes, defunct. And it was the talk-radio blowhards who killed it.
The RNC's 2012 postmortem, wryly titled the "Growth & Opportunity Project," attempted to take stock of what went wrong in the Republican effort to evict Barack Obama from the White House, and why it was that so much of the party had convinced themselves that Mitt Romney was headed toward a landslide victory. The diagnosis? Epistemic closure:
The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself. We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.
Instead of driving around in circles on an ideological cul-de-sac, we need a Party whose brand of conservatism invites and inspires new people to visit us. We need to remain America's conservative alternative to big-government, redistribution-to-extremes liberalism, while building a route into our Party that a non-traditional Republican will want to travel. Our standard should not be universal purity; it should be a more welcoming conservatism.
"Our standard should not be universal purity." If that's not the standard anymore, then inviting Rush Limbaugh to moderate a GOP debate would be a funny way of showing it. The man has built his empire and influence by evangelizing pure conservatism and blasting everyone to the left of Antonin Scalia as a despicable liberal. Sean Hannity doesn't attract or persuade new Republican voters; he preaches to the converted and makes a handsome living by ginning them up to spittle-ejecting levels of outrage.
And that right there is the problem the RNC's rebranding initiative faced from the outset: talk radio was never on board with the plan. Right after it was released, Limbaugh called the RNC's proposal a sham: "The Republicans are just getting totally bamboozled right now. And they are entirely lacking in confidence. Which is what happens to every political party after an election in which they think they got shellacked." Hannity panicked after Obama's reelection and announced that, after years of opposition, he'd suddenly seen the light on immigration reform, which put him in line with the RNC's recommendation to engage "ethnic minority voters" and "show our sincerity." Hannity's conversion lasted only a few months before he, along with the rest of the conservative AM dial, was back to bashing illegal immigrants and pushing Republicans to abandon reform.
The modern GOP was built on the backs of talk radio. For decades now, Republicans have encouraged their voters to ignore the elitist, "liberal" media and restrict their news diet to right-wing radio and outlets owned by Rupert Murdoch. You can't just hope to just flip a switch and change that dynamic -- the people who profit from it are obviously going to fight back.
Bottom line: if you really want to escape the "ideological cul-de-sac," you don't invite Rush Limbaugh to drive the bus.