The Republican National Committee has no spine.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus is a decent man, and it is clear that he’s worked hard ahead of each GOP debate this cycle to be respectful of each and every candidate running in the deep Republican field. The party chairman doesn’t even say unkind things about Donald Trump, who is not a conservative and who has bankrolled Democratic candidates in the recent past. Unlike other people within the GOP establishment who are deeply suspicious of conservative agitators and fearful of the rise of the Tea Party, during his tenure as the chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, Priebus sought out grassroots conservatives and let them know that they would be welcome participants within the GOP.
But now a glaring hypocrisy has emerged in how the RNC handles its formally sanctioned and sponsored presidential debates.
On January 22, the RNC announced it was dropping its February 25 debate partnership with National Review because the conservative magazine released a special edition highly critical of Donald Trump and featuring the scathing commentary of numerous conservatives. There was nothing vitriolic or personal about the collection of critiques, they simply pointed out that Donald Trump has not been in the past, and is not now, a conservative.
But what may have started out as an attempt to appear fair and impartial when it comes to the lightening rod candidacy of Donald Trump now looks like a glaring hypocrisy.
Before the February 25 debate in Houston, TX the RNC is holding an officially sanctioned CBS News debate in South Carolina on February 13. One of the moderators is Kimberley Strassel, and as Erick Erickson and others have pointed out, that’s not good for Ted Cruz.
Strassel has served as one of the court stenographers to Republican leaders in Washington. She has penned multiple pieces attacking Cruz. She will try to throw him off his game.
In November of last year Strassel wrote in a Wall Street Journal column: “Mr. Cruz’s opportunism tends to benefit one cause: Mr. Cruz.” The target of her ire was Cruz’s approach to foreign policy, and she claimed that Cruz’s record is “closer to Bernie Sanders than to the GOP.”
In early 2014, Strassel claimed Cruz was part of “a rump band of Beltway conservatives” unserious about stopping the agenda of President Barack Obama. Cruz had recently forced fellow Republicans to cast a vote on a debt ceiling increase. According to Strassel, the Beltway apologist for GOP half-measures:
Members of Congress routinely cook up situations that force opposing parties to take “tough votes.” This may be the first time a senator did so solely to damage his own party. It may also be the first time a senator has used the privileges afforded him under Senate rules to benefit a small and coordinated band of conservative campaign groups.
The evil conservative groups singled out by Strassel for particular derision were Heritage Action and Senate Conservatives Fund, both groups with a reputation for standing up against the establishment fascination with Progressivism-lite.
Hilariously, Strassel claimed in that piece that Republicans were likely to remain in the minority in the Senate. Months later her fearmongering proved unfounded as Republicans captured the majority in the U.S. Senate.
When Cruz pushed in 2013 to kill a measure that would have the GOP supporting one aspect of ObamaCare, Strassel reliably attacked him and conservatives who thought the GOP shouldn’t be propping up any part of the President’s failed healthcare policy. As Strassel put it:
But the absolutists wanted to make a point: Republicans must not vote for any legislation, ever, that might tacitly underpin, in any way, any aspect of ObamaCare—even a program for the sick. Full repeal, or nothing! Mr. Cruz’s staff trashed it. Heritage Action slammed it. The Club for Growth misrepresented what it would do and threatened to score the vote. House leaders pulled it.
The horror of a senator and conservative groups pushing for elected officials in Washington, D.C. to live by their self-proclaimed principles!
Strassel’s consistent criticism of Cruz and other conservatives in the Senate has drawn praise from Jennifer Rubin, the token conservative enamored with the swamp of Washington who writes for the Washington Post.
The former’s Twitter account is also an outlet for her disgust for Cruz. During the GOP debate on January 28, Strassel tweeted that Cruz’s plan for fighting ISIS “is much like Obama’s–from the air and afar, akin to Libya.”
There is ample evidence that Kimberley Strassel is not the right person to moderate the GOP debate in South Carolina. There is no mistaking the fact that she despises – even hates – Cruz as a national Republican voice. If the RNC felt that National Review’s editorial perspective was enough to end their participation in the Texas debate, the RNC should insist that Strassel not be a part of the moderating panel for the South Carolina debate.
By bowing to Trump, but refusing to defend Cruz, the RNC is going from an understandable – even commendable – approach to evenhandedness in officially sanctioned debates to a hypocritical stance that they hope no one will notice.