Hugh Hewitt: RNC Should “Exile” Herman Cain, Gary Johnson, and Ron Paul from Future Debates

In reading Doug Mataconis’ recent post about pundits on the Right ignoring the presence of Ron Paul and Gary Johnson in the first presidential debate of the 2012 campaign and my subsequent listening and reading of many of the same pundits who have since mocked Ron Paul for daring to say such things as the war on (some) drugs has been a failure, I am reminded of the famous quote of Mahatma Gandhi: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

It seems to me that the anti-liberty forces on the Right aren’t all at the same stage, however. Some want to ignore Ron Paul and Gary Johnson while others simply laugh at them. Conservative radio host and blogger Hugh Hewitt seems to have moved past the ignore and laughing stages and on to the fighting stage. How exactly does Hewitt wish to fight: by silencing what he calls the “marginal” candidates.

This is why the GOP needs to rethink its debate schedule and why the RNC should take over the operation of the debates and exile Cain, Johnson and Paul as well as every other candidate without a prayer of winning. (Santorum is a long shot, but he has a realistic though small chance of winning the nomination, while the others do not.) The seriousness of the fiscal crisis requires the GOP and its candidates to act seriously, and allowing marginal candidates to eat up time and distract from the enormous problems facing the country is not serious.

Apparently, it’s not enough for Hugh Hewitt that the Fox News moderators focused most of their serious* questions and attention toward “long shot” Rick Santorum and Tim Pawlenty. No, the very presence of Herman Cain, Ron Paul, and Gary Johnson distract from the “important” issues facing our country.

On electability
Marginal candidate Herman Cain placed second in a Zogby Poll that came out Tuesday, largely due to his performance in the debate that Hewitt says he had no business taking part.

Marginal candidate Rep. Ron Paul has won the CPAC presidential straw poll two years in a row. According to a recent CNN/Opinion Research poll, Paul trails Barack Obama in a head to head race by 7 percentage points while “serious” candidate and Hewitt favorite “Mandate Mitt” Romney trails Obama by 11.

Marginal candidate Gary Johnson, like Herman Cain, doesn’t have the name recognition (until recently maybe for Cain) that some of the top tier candidates have. This reason alone could explain why he hasn’t polled well so far. But as Johnson himself points out, when he ran for Governor of New Mexico in a state that votes 2-1 Democrat he didn’t have the name recognition either. He was told back then that could never win but Johnson got the last laugh when he beat the incumbent governor by 10 percentage points.

Cain, Paul, and Johnson may be long shots but I wouldn’t go as far to say they “don’t have a prayer” of winning the nomination. One advantage of being a long shot is they can say what they really think about the issues while the “contenders” have to be cautious – which leads me to my next point.

On “marginal candidates eat[ing] up time distract[ing] from the enormous problems facing the country”
Moderators and interviewers can only do so much to get straightforward answers from candidates. The top tier candidates should actually be grateful to have candidates like Cain, Paul, and Johnson in the primaries to challenge them. The eventual nominee will be battle tested for the general campaign since s/he has already had to offer alternative answers to challenging questions about taxation, entitlements, foreign policy, etc.

If Herman Cain says our government should replace the income tax with the Fair Tax, the other candidates have to explain why the income tax should remain in place or offer another alternative. If Ron Paul says that our government needs to stop policing the world and audit the Fed, the other candidates have to explain why our government should continue to police the world and continue to keep the activities of the Fed secret. If Gary Johnson argues that from a cost/benefit approach the war on (some) drugs has yielded much greater cost than benefit, the other candidates have to explain where Johnson is wrong in his analysis.**

Far from being a distraction from the important issues, Cain, Paul, and Johnson can focus the debate in such a way that would be otherwise not possible. Of course this assumes that the debate moderators give all the candidates a chance to respond.
Hewitt made one other point that needs to be challenged:

When the first tier of GOP candidates gather to discuss how to begin to fix the mess we are in, the voters deserve to hear the problems and the solutions fairly and fully talked through, and done without the interruption of the 1%ers with agendas unrelated to defeating President Obama in November, 2012.

Hugh, it’s still very early in this campaign, relax! Part of the reason that some of these candidates are 1%ers is because they lack name recognition (i.e. who are these people?). These 1%ers at least deserve a chance to introduce themselves to primary voters. Even as closely as I follow politics, there are quite a few names I’ve heard recently attached to individuals I know nothing about. Honestly, I know very little about the GOP field overall – at least those who didn’t run in 2008. I’m quite sure I am not alone.

And yes, the 1%ers probably have agendas besides defeating President Obama in 2012. If you want to be honest though, this is probably true for all the candidates. The more crowded the field, the more difficult it is for any candidate to win the nomination. A presidential primary is a perfect opportunity to speak about issues one cares about in a larger marketplace of ideas than normally possible. It’s not unusual for the eventual nominee to adopt some of the positions of his primary rivals in the general campaign (so in a sense, one’s issues are as important as winning the nomination…unless it’s only about ego).

But isn’t talking about having an agenda besides beating Obama in the general putting the cart before the horse just a little bit? I’m quite sure that if Cain, Paul, or Johnson actually won the nomination, beating Obama in 2012 would become the primary objective. They each have their own vision for this country.

The truth is, I think, you don’t want Cain, Paul, or Johnson in the debates because you are an establishment guy not because they are 1%ers. You don’t want to see any of these men in the debates because they are a threat to the status quo of the Republican Party (this is probably more true of Paul and Johnson than Cain though Cain would still be an outsider). I don’t believe for a minute that if any of these men became contenders you would suddenly welcome them in the debates.

It’s my hope that the RNC doesn’t take your advice seriously.