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Bill Kristol on GOP Presidential Debates

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Bill Kristol was on my program Tuesday (full transcript here), and I asked him about the proposed Politico-Olbermann Network debate at the Reagan Library:

HH: All right, now I want to move to politics and then to policy. Here’s the political question, Bill Kristol. Last week, Politico announced that Nancy Reagan was going to host the first Republican nominee debate at the Reagan Library in the spring of 2011, and that Politico and NBC would be asking the questions. I wrote a column that said that’s a terrible idea. Not only is it too early, but I don’t think that we should cede the right to select the Republican nominee, or at least ask those questions at the beginning, to MSM. It ought to be different kinds of journalists. And boy, I got some blowback from Beltway types. I’m curious if you were an advisor to one of the major nominees, Thune or Romney or Pawlenty, or any of the other ones, would you advise them to accept this Reagan Library invitation as it is presently cast?

BK: Absolutely not, and I think both reasons, for me, are equally important, perhaps. It is a disaster to begin the nominating process to early. One of the things we learned in this past year, can you imagine if we had to nominate all the Republican candidates a year and a half ahead of time for 2010?

HH: Yup, yup.

BK: Well, Charlie Crist would be running for Senate in Florida, and Marco Rubio never would have been able to get off the ground. And this is true in many, many other states. And it’s especially true for the Congressional candidates. One of the great things about this next two years, next year and a half at least, if we have a wide open Republican field. And these candidates can get out there and make their case. They should debate a lot. They should not begin in April with a debate, as you say, hosted by NBC, the parent company of MSNBC. And it’s just too early anyway. I would put everything off until August-September. And I would certainly agree with your point. I mean, you could host the debate in California. You live right near the Reagan Library. What are they getting, what, are they going to fly in some NBC guy and Politico guy? It’s really ridiculous.

HH: Well, my idea was that they go to the Heritage Foundation. And if they want to have some forums on these big issues, that you know, you could put the Standard together with the Examiner, and do 6th floor Heritage Foundation conversations.

BK: Yeah.

HH: Not debates, they don’t need to club each other.

BK: Right. Absolutely right. I totally agree. And it’s really important. And also, you make a, you’re hinting at a bigger point that I just want to make explicit. This is a…for years, Republicans have dutifully nominated their candidate really in accordance, I would say, with the establishment’s general view of how this process should work. And whether a schedule, or who debates whom, who hosts the debates, it’s very important to rethink all of that this year. But I think your point is good. Why should there be debates? Let’s have forums. Let’s have plenty of visibility. God know with new media, these candidates aren’t going to have a chance, aren’t going to lack a chance to make their case and to answer questions in a million different ways and forums – town halls, virtual town halls, online, etc. And that will be healthy. That will be good. And we shouldn’t force them into some artificial hour and a half thing where the premium is on some stupid gotcha question, and picking fights among them.



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