On the heels of National Review’s full special issue titled “Against Trump,” the Republican National Committee has decided to revoke the magazine’s sponsorship for the February 25 debate in Houston, explaining, “a debate moderator can’t have a predisposition.” National Review’s publisher, Jack Fowler, said, “We expected this was coming,” and added that it was a “small price to pay for speaking the truth about The Donald.”
Even on the right, some have declared the RNC’s move perfectly valid – after all, if you complain about moderators’ biases, it seems difficult to allow a debate sponsor with an editorial board that has condemned the polling frontrunner.
But this isn’t the right move for the RNC. The RNC should not just allow National Review to sponsor the debate, they ought to invite a bevy of opinionated conservatives to the debate to ask questions. The RNC’s decision here reinforces the asinine logic that gave us CNBC’s John Harwood as a moderator – or, for that matter, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in years past. That logic suggests that there is such a thing as media objectivity – or at least, that if you keep quiet about your own political biases, you get to ask questions. So leftists masquerading as objective reporters are fine, but out-and-proud conservatives are banned.
This is foolish.
There’s a legitimate fear that Trump might boycott a debate sponsored by National Review as a way of showing his displeasure. But it’s far more likely that he shows up to play victim, to whine about how he’s been targeted personally by one of the moderating organizations. Good. Let’s have that debate. That’s a useful debate to have, given Trump’s self-proclaimed strategy of whining until he wins. It’s probably a debate Trump wants, too.
One of the great sins in modern politics is the notion that questions can be dismissed based on the motives of the questioner. The questions themselves may be biased – that’s a good reason to slash the moderator – but either a question is worthy of answer or it’s not. There is no objectivity. There are only good questions. National Review will ask good questions. That should be the end of the story.
Sadly, it isn’t. Because it isn’t, our debates will continue to be displays of faux-objective silliness.