Politics & Policy

Republicans Should Have Quit While They Were Ahead after CNBC Debate

(Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty)

Where do Republicans get that special talent for turning gold to dross? They score an electoral “massacre” (The Economist) in 2014 and, a year later, what do they have to show for it other than another threat to shut down the government? Hillary Clinton is caught in e-mail flagrante and Benghazi mendacity and yet, with one Kevin McCarthy gaffe and a singularly ineffective 11-hour Benghazi hearing, Republicans render her sanitized.

And now their latest feat. They win a stunning victory over their perennial nemesis, the mainstream media — a slam-dunk rim-rattling exposure of the media bias they have been complaining about for a half-century — and within a week they so overplayed their hand as to dissipate whatever sympathetic advantage they gained.

The CNBC debate was a gift for the GOP, so unadorned a demonstration of liberal condescension, hostility, and arrogance that the rest of the media — their ideological cover exposed — were forced to denounce and ridicule their ham-handed colleagues. What happened then? Instead of quitting while they were ahead, the Republicans plunged into a week of meetings and statements, whining and complaining, bouncing around a series of demands, including control of the kind of questions that may or may not be asked at future debates.

RELATED: CNBC Inadvertently Showcased the Republicans’ Best Qualities

Who’s the genius who thought up that one? First, it instantly allowed the liberal media to turn the tables and play defenders of journalistic independence against GOP bullies.

Second, it made the Republicans look small. To paraphrase Chris Christie’s “fantasy football” moment, the economy is in the tank, Russia is on the move, the Islamic State is on the attack — and the candidates are debating the proper room temperature for a debate forum?

RELATED: Are the Debates Working?

Third, this continues the season-long GOP diversion from what should be its real target — the wreckage wrought by seven years of Barack Obama. The greatest irony of this campaign is that Clinton and Bernie Sanders are the ones making the case that the economy is stagnant, inequality is growing, and the middle class is falling increasingly behind. That’s a devastating indictment of Democratic governance, exactly the case Republicans should have been making all year. Instead, they’ve wasted months trading schoolboy taunts and ad hominems.

Now another distraction: debate structure. The party is demanding there be no repetition of the CNBC debate. Why, for God’s sake? That debate was the best thing to happen to the GOP since Michael Dukakis.

#share#Won’t someone tell the Republicans that they won? Let it go. Who cares who’s on the next debate panel? Don’t they realize that fear of ridicule alone will temper the instincts of whatever liberal questioners are chosen?

John Harwood’s obnoxiousness and Becky Quick’s incompetence earned most of the opprobrium heaped on the moderators’ performance. But it was Carl Quintanilla who demonstrated just how unmoored liberal delusions about conservatives have become. He asked Ben Carson how, as an opponent of gay marriage, he could remain on the board of a company that is known for its generous treatment of gay employees. Quintanilla seemed genuinely unable to fathom that one can oppose the most radical change in the structure of marriage in human history — as Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama all did just a few years ago — without wanting to see gay people persecuted and denied decent treatment by their employers.

RELATED: What the Republican Debates Should Be About

CNBC produced the best night of the entire campaign season for the GOP. And yet some Republicans were determined to turn it into another theater of their civil war against the GOP “establishment.” This time the target was Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus. As if Priebus is responsible for Harwood.

#related#Good grief. Priebus’s job, the party’s job, is to control the number of debates and set the calendar. Its doing so in 2015–16 constitutes a significant achievement, considering the damage done to the GOP in 2011–2012 by its 20 freelance debates. That endless, vicious intramural fight — featuring Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich savaging Mitt Romney’s “vulture capitalism” — laid the premise for Obama’s negative and winning campaign.

Ted Cruz has suggested that Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Mark Levin moderate Republican debates. Good idea, wrong target. How about this arrangement? Limbaugh & Co. should moderate the Democratic debates. What a splendid blood-soaked spectacle that would be.

As for the GOP? Bring on the liberals. The Republicans should demand the return of Harwood, Quick, and Quintanilla, until the end of time.

—Charles Krauthammer is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2015 The Washington Post Writers Group

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