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Republicans Should Be Thanking CNBC
November 4, 2015  | By David Hinckley  | 2 comments

Memo to Republican presidential candidates: Stop whining and admit that your vilified CNBC debate was the best thing that’s happened to the party since the Koch brothers.

Instead of complaining about everything except the color of the NBC peacock’s feathers, the candidates should simply acknowledge the hard cold political truth, which is that CNBC inadvertently gave those candidates the greatest gift any politician can ever receive: a villain.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that nirvana for a political candidate is being able to divide the world into us and them, “them” being so loathsome that the voter leaps to embrace “us.”

While Republicans and conservatives have long painted “the liberal media” as the cause of every problem this side of the Ebola virus, the catch is that the term sometimes feels abstract.

CNBC solved that problem for them. It let the candidates return to their rallies or TV microphones, point to CNBC and the CNBC moderators and say, “See, these are liberals! This is what liberals do! They just want to embarrass us! They don’t care about America! They’re rude! They’re mean!”

They’re “them.”

Whether or not the CNBC team (Carl Quintanilla, Becky Quick and John Harwood, left) deserved the tar-and-feathering it has received since the debate, much of the Republican primary base seems to believe it does. So it’s been like shooting free throws for the candidates to spend the last week yelling, “More tar! More feathers!”

To a conservative crowd, these candidates can now stride in as conquering heroes, noble survivors of another cowardly ambush by the “liberal media.”

And probably not one of them will drop a thank-you note to CNBC. 

Meanwhile, these same candidates tell us with straight faces that all they’re really asking for is a civil debate forum where everyone calmly lays out his or her views on the issues that matter to real Americans.

And maybe they do. Maybe they want their weapons of choice to be position papers and policy pronouncements.

What they don’t want is for 10 or 12 million viewers to fall asleep or turn off their TV sets as candidates repeat well-rehearsed campaign promises about keeping American safe and prosperous.

As “good TV,” it’s risky. It’s also reruns, since we’ve already heard months of this in a campaign that still has a year to run.

That’s why, even at this stage, what gets a lot more viewers tuned in and talking is improv, which for better or worse is what happened on CNBC.  

That evening provided lively television even when the wheels were coming off. It provided endless post-debate material for speeches that rally the troops. It enabled candidates like Donald Trump to thump their chests about how they forced the liberal media to heel.

From the perspective of the candidates, what’s not to like? Is there a downside anywhere?

Or, as the late W.C. Fields once approximately remarked, “It was a woman who drove me to drink . .. . and I never had the courtesy to thank her.”

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David's got it right, the candidates should thank MSNBC for creating a liberal piñata that they all can whack, that's if I'm allowed to honor Mexican culture.

I'd really like to see a debate where the candidates present his or her position on any particular issue or set of issues-hopefully important ones-and then the other candidates point out why the presented position is flawed and then present a solution or alternative of his or her own. Then the next debate takes on whatever distressed him or her and once again presents other options. Maybe I'm asking too much.
Nov 4, 2015   |  Reply
Splendid column, David. As I dedicated mainstreamer, I hate hate hate it when members of our sometimes noble profession give ammo to our critics by committing stupid errors.
Nov 4, 2015   |  Reply
David Hinckley
Thanks. And you're right about ammo.
Nov 6, 2015
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