John A. Tures: GOP opts for a really unwise business model

September 2, 2013 

Word came out this past week that the Republican Party "voted" not to have any debates on NBC and CNN. The party that aspires to run the country like a business isn't showing any business acumen on this particular issue.

I've had the good fortune to chat with a number of folks in business. And I've never heard the idea "shrink the market" or "appeal to fewer customers" as a viable strategy. Yet that's what the Republicans seem to be doing.

Some believe that the party seems to be getting more conservative, drifting further away from the average voter. That's certainly a subject to debate another day, but by boycotting having any debate on two major networks, the GOP is unambiguously adopting a plan to reach fewer voters with its message, and should rethink this plan.

The plan was the brainchild of Reince Priebus, the Republican Party chairman. He and other Republicans are objecting to the behavior of the CNN moderator in a 2012 debate, and the decision of CNN and NBC to run a big special on Hillary Clinton.

On the CNN moderator issue, the GOP doesn't have as strong a case. This went back to a fact checking moment. Romney made the incorrect assertion that the Obama team never mentioned terrorism in the Benghazi report. It was the wrong question to ask. The better question was to ask if Obama's foreign policy team changed its story, or failed to report certain facts of the case. Both of those would have been fact-checked in Romney's favor. Having the boycott in response to that moment simply reminds everyone how poorly Romney performed in that debate, as opposed to his better showing in the first debate, which was on domestic policy.

On the Clinton documentary, I certainly think Republicans have a point. It's a bit over the top for CNN and NBC to show this. But boycotting is the wrong answer. Priebus would have gotten more mileage out of showing how unfair the Clinton piece was (not giving equal time to the Republicans). Most moderates would agree.

Regardless of the details, boycotting NBC and CNN for GOP debates is just a bad idea all around. My research on media coverage shows that NBC and CNN appeal to more moderate and liberal viewers. But that's exactly why you need to debate in front of them. Democrats have won five of the last six popular vote counts. Republicans aren't going to win until they bring some Democrat voters over.

When Republicans debate in front of NBC and CNN voters, some will tune out the GOP message. But others will hear it, and possibly realize there's more of a connection than what they hear through traditional media filters. That's how Susanna Martinez, the Republican governor from New Mexico, switched over from the Democratic Party. When hearing the message, she realized she had more in common with the GOP. Many other independents, moderates and Democrats may have a similar realization when they watch a debate as well.

Not all Republicans are so myopic on the issue. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has decided to return to CNN's "Crossfire." He recognizes the need of Republicans to expand the party's appeal and let moderates know what the GOP stands for. This may do more to woo undecided voters than any boycott cooked up by Reince Priebus.

John A. Tures, associate professor of political science, LaGrange College; jtures@lagrange.edu.

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