Why are Republican Party leaders getting so worked up over a couple of television movies that haven’t been produced yet? Oh, yeah. The proposed movies are about Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Grand Old Party’s most galvanizing figure outside of President You-Know-Who.
In their summer meeting last week, the Republican National Committee voted to back up Chairman Reince Priebus’ threat to refuse any partnership with CNN or NBC in the 2016 presidential primary debates if the networks proceed with their plans to broadcast programs about the former secretary of state and first lady.
CNN is working on a documentary and NBC’s entertainment division, quite separate from NBC News, announced during a recent press tour for television critics that they have begun work on a fictionalized four-hour miniseries starring Diane Lane.
The projects are still being written, and NBC says their entire production still could be shelved. Nor, it is worth mentioning, has Mrs. Clinton said she’s planning to run although many, like me, find it hard to imagine that she’ll be able to stay away.
Despite those uncertainties, the RNC’s resolution shows remarkably confident clairvoyance as it blasts both networks’ projects as “political ads masked as unbiased entertainment.”
Yes, just when you thought it was safe to come out after Campaign 2012, here comes Campaign 2016. We may not have declared candidates, which is no small matter, but when all else fails, the parties still have the media to kick around.
In response, a Democratic National Committee spokesman summoned up a semblance of regret over the GOP’s effort to “actually speak to even fewer voters.”
But let us not forget what happened when Democrats had their last contested presidential primaries. In May 2007, the entire Democratic field, including then-Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, turned their backs in similar fashion to a debate organized by GOP-friendly FOX News, even though the other cosponsor was the Democratic-dominated Congressional Black Caucus.
Neither party is fooling anybody. These boycott gestures have little to do with any substantive policy dispute or media bias and everything to do with stirring up a brisk unifying excitement in each party’s base of supporters.
Getting a clean narrative in this protest proved to be a bit more complicated than the RNC expected, when the New York Times reported that a potential big-name producer for the NBC miniseries might be FOX Television Studios, an entertainment sister to good ol’ FOX News.
But FOX pulled out, according to NBC’s entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt, for reasons that had nothing to do with the RNC. That’s too bad. It would have been amusing to watch Priebus justify boycotting a wing of NBC over a movie produced by a wing of Rupert Murdoch’s FOX empire.
Rest assured, no one in the Hillary Clinton camp expects either NBC or CNN to produce a puff piece about her, not with all the juicy scandals and soap opera drama -- from Paula Jones to Monica Lewinsky to Benghazi -- that the Clinton narrative offers.
The RNC can boycott whomever it wants to, not that they should. I opposed the Dems’ boycott for the same reasons I oppose the GOP’s ultimatum: they signal once again that the debates will be something less than true debates and more like opportunities for candidates to answer only those questions that they want to be asked.
For now, I suspect that Priebus is pumping up his own profile as a bona fide Hillary-hater to gain the respect among hardcore conservatives that he needs to push the sort of controversial reforms urged by the post-election “autopsy” he ordered after Mitt Romney’s loss. They included fewer debates, better technology, a shorter primary season and better outreach to minorities.
In short, the party needs to be more welcoming. It also needs to muzzle its maniacs. The party’s establishment wants to broaden its appeal, but others want to focus on the hundreds of thousands of conservatives who stayed home when Romney needed them.
Faced with divisions, GOP leaders follow an old reflex: change the subject. When other convenient enemies refuse to declare their candidacies, you can always blame the media.
Nothing unifies your tribe like a shared sense that some other tribe is out to get you.