The Hidden Motivation Behind GOP Threats to Boycott NBC, CNN

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RNC chairman Reince Priebus

The Republican Party threatened Monday to pull 2016 Republican primary debates from CNN and NBC if they do not drop plans for special programs on potential 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton—a move that could help the national party winnow the number of debates in the coming presidential election cycle.

“It’s appalling to know executives at major networks like NBC and CNN who have donated to Democrats and Hillary Clinton have taken it upon themselves to be Hillary Clinton’s campaign operatives,” said  Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committe in a statement. “Their actions to promote Secretary Clinton are disturbing and disappointing. I hope Americans will question the credibility of these networks and that NBC and CNN will reconsider their partisan actions and cancel these political ads masked as unbiased entertainment.”

NBC has announced plans to air a miniseries, starring Diane Lane as Clinton, while CNN is producing a feature-length documentary directed by Charles H. Ferguson.

Reforming the primary debate process has been a central component of the RNC’s 2012 autopsy, with party officials trying to restrict the number of debates and screen out unfriendly debate moderators. But the effort to cut back on the number of debates has run into headwinds from Republican state parties in early states, who in many instances see revenue from co-hosting the debates and associated events. The autopsy recommends changing the RNC rules to include penalties for Republican state parties or candidates if they participate in debates unsanctioned by the RNC.

To date that provision has not caught on. But Priebus’s letter is designed to make that easier when the Republican National Committee meets in Boston next week to discuss the debate schedule, according to one member of the Republican National Committee. “If they have not agreed to pull this programming prior to the start of the RNC’s Summer Meeting on August 14, I will seek a binding vote stating that the RNC will neither partner with these networks in 2016 primary debates nor sanction primary debates they sponsor,” Priebus wrote in his letter.

Republican Party officials believe the 20 GOP primary debates during the 2012 cycle hurt their party and Mitt Romney, the eventual nominee. CNN’s John King, in particular, drew attacks when he questioned former Speaker of the House New Gingrich about his prior marital infidelities in a debate before the South Carolina primary, while Republicans have long been weary of working with NBC given the liberal-leanings of its cable network MSNBC. Priebus has previously proposed a more modest 10 to 12 debates, in part to protect better-funded candidates from insurgents who capitalize on their time before the cameras.

Priebus’ threat has already paid off in rallying Republicans to his cause in advance of the meeting next week. Iowa Republican Party chairman A.J. Spiker tweeted that his state would stand with the RNC against CNN and NBC.

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