The Corner

Reince Priebus’s Plans for the GOP

I sat down with him last week and write about what he had to say over at Bloomberg. One portion of the column could probably use a little elaboration:

 

Priebus also wants to change the process that Republicans use to pick their presidential nominees. He wants a shorter primary calendar, and fewer media-sponsored debates. Those reforms would help front-runners and hurt insurgents, which is presumably the point: less camera time for hopeless candidates. One idea under consideration is to reduce candidates’ delegate hauls if they participate in debates the party hasn’t approved. That proposal could lead to yet another Tea Party-versus- establishment fracas.

The argument against having so many media-sponsored debates was made by Fred Barnes during the last presidential primaries: By giving marginal candidates equal time, they distort the public picture of the party and make the real contenders look smaller. They let the media set the agenda for the candidates rather than let them set it themselves. 

If this theory is correct, though, there’s a problem: The candidates are always going to have an interest in accepting more debate invitations than are optimal for the party’s chances of winning the general election. The marginal candidates want the airtime to get better known. If enough of them say yes, the more established candidates start to look fearful if they don’t say yes. Hence Priebus’s proposal: The idea is to align the candidates’ incentives with the party’s.

I don’t, for the record, think that the proliferation of debates played a big role in the party’s defeats, but they probably hurt a little bit.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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