The Campaign Spot

Why Hold an RNC Chair Debate? Grover Norquist Explains.

I asked Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform and one of the cosponsors and moderators of today’s RNC chair debate, what a conservative watching the debate at home ought to do if they see a candidate they really like, or one they strongly oppose.

“Yes, call up their committeemen,” Norquist said. “The reason we did this two years ago, and again this time is, 168 people vote in about two weeks. In the past, they would go into a room, and vote for one of their friends. And it might be based on, he promised to put me on a committee, he bought me lunch, he promised me something or we agree on issues. There may be good reasons or bad reasons, but there was nobody watching the decision-making process. If in this debate, in this debate the five candidates all have to speak to every member of the Republican National Committee. There are a couple dozen in the room, sitting ten feet away, and every other one will be watching on C-SPAN or watching on the web later. Unlike all the other campaigning they do, one on one, this is talk to everybody at once. That give you much more useful and interesting answers – what do they tell everybody?

“If their committeeman voted for somebody who did poorly in a debate, they’ll really have to answer, ‘Why did you do that?’ And you had better have a reason other than, ‘I liked him.’ You know the general electorate is looking over your shoulder, and while it’s still your vote, you know you’re going to have to answer to people who saw this debate, who saw it on TV, on the web, who read about it in conservative journals and mainstream press and answer, ‘Why did you go for the guy who’s X instead of Y?’

“We’re asking questions about how will you govern, the way you would ask a candidate for Congress or Senate. When they tell us what they’ll do over the next two years, I don’t have to shout at them, ‘Hey, you said you would do X!’ because millions of people who saw it on TV or on the web site will say, ‘Hey, you said you would never do Y or you said your first priority was X, and now we see it isn’t because you’re doing this instead of that.’ They are narrowing their options in a useful way. They’re forced to say, ‘Here’s what I’m going to do, and here’s why I’m asking for your support, you the RNC members, you the general electorate, you the Republican party.’

“We offered the Democrats to host a debate for them two years ago, and this time around and they passed on the opportunity. Their elections the last couple cycles have looked sort of like Egyptian elections. You saw [DNC Chair Tim] Kaine said he thinks he’s going to be chairman again. O-kay. One of the reasons we did this is for the openness and the transparency — when any of these guys get elected, for the next two years, they’ll have people saying, ‘I saw you promise to do X, what’s going on?’”

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