The Republican National Committee (RNC) met in Memphis last week. Committee members heard talking-point speeches from GOP presidential aspirants Rand Paul and Marco Rubio and an address from Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam.
More important, as Jackson Baker reported on our website — and expounds upon in this week's paper — there were some significant moves made by the RNC's rules committee. At the top of the list was a decision, approved by the membership, to "take control" of the GOP's presidential primary debates by creating a committee to sanction a list of "approved" presidential-candidate debates. Any GOP presidential candidate who participated in an unsanctioned debate would be prohibited from taking part in any further sanctioned debates.
"All details of the sanctioned debates," Baker reported, "would be overseen by the 13-member RNC committee — the rules, the questions, the choice of moderators, the length of answer time permitted to the candidate ... everything and anything, in short." Five of those members would be appointed by the RNC chairman.
The stated rationale for this decision was that "93 percent" of the media are hostile to the GOP. As one RNC member said: "Somebody has to say no to Candy Crowley." Aside from the fact that I suspect many, many people have said no to Candy Crowley, this is subterfuge — creating a "hostile media" strawman to justify limiting the candidates' exposure and making it tougher for fringe candidates to play by the RNC rules.
An Indiana University study reports that 7 percent of journalists (of all stripes) are registered Republicans, hence, I suppose, the 93 percent "hostile" media justification used by the RNC. The study further reports that 28 percent of the media are Democrats, 50 percent have no party affiliation, and 14 percent are "other."
It's clear the real reason for this move is that the Republicans don't really want debates; they want showcases that create friendly sound-bites, and they want to remove the possibility of candidates having to face tough questions and maybe saying something stupid. (Rick Perry, come back. All is forgiven!)
Which raises the question: Who exactly is going to televise these "sanctioned" debates? Fox News might go along with such provisos, since most of their on-air personalities would be more than happy to toss underhand softballs at the GOP candidates. But I can't believe any other legitimate TV network would accept such an arrangement.
But maybe that's the point, after all. It's like the RNC version of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS): When it comes to the "national championship," the RNC, like the BCS, wants to keep the little guys from having a shot.
Exactly seven years ago this week, I wrote a column decrying a proposal by city engineers to turn the Overton Park Greensward into an 18-foot-deep "detention basin" designed to stop flooding in Midtown. The engineers claimed we'd hardly notice the football-field-sized bowl. "Except," I wrote then, "when it rains hard, at which time, users of Overton Park would probably notice a large, 18-foot-deep lake in the Greensward. Or afterward, a large, muddy, trash-filled depression."