Conservative Buzz: GOP Dropping Out of CNN/YouTube Debate?

Scott Swenson

Mitt Romney is dissing snowmen, but perhaps what he and Rudy Giuliani are afraid of is answering You Tube questions on abortion. Romney has dropped out, choosing money over talking to voters - see the video.

A hat tip to blogger Skippy who, loathe as he was, gave up the conservative buzz and linked to Hugh Hewlitt's blog at Townhall.com, that — get this — Gov. Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani are apparently afraid of what conservatives might ask on the September 17, CNN-You Tube debates. Rumor has it they are dropping out.

Evidently answering questions of the American public in an exciting and new interactive medium is beneath them. Or is it that these two candidates, who are trying hard to prove their street cred to the GOP nominating wing, who cares about nothing but abortion, are afraid of what the combination of You Tube and ultra-conservatism might bring about? (a legitimate fear if you've seen any conservative You Tube rants).

Hewitt reports:

Over the last few hours, I'd been hearing buzz that GOP candidates were going wobbly on the CNN/YouTube debate. I was dismissive. Given the huge earned media hit the Democrats got this week, the fact that even the highly partisan questioners acquitted themselves better than Chris Matthews did in the first debate, and the sponsorship of the powerful Republican Party of Florida, I didn't think the GOP candidates would make the political mistake of passing up it up. I was apparently wrong. Rudy Giuliani is unlikely to participate, according to an official source. And Mitt Romney wouldn't commit, dissing the "snowman question." Mitt Romney didn't like some of the more frivolous trappings and told the New Hampshire Union Leader that "I think the presidency ought to be held at a higher level than having to answer questions from a snowman." I would now expect numerous candidates to bail, just like they did at Ames, citing the lack of a frontrunner.

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I'm not sure there is anything in recent memory that has created as much interest and genuine enthusiasm in presidential politics as this week's You Tube debate.

That the GOP might have to cancel their debate for fear of real voters asking real questions, well, that speaks for itself. Granted, as Skippy and others point out, the Democrats ducked the Fox debate, a mistake, but no one sees Fox as anything other than partisan, as Ann Coulter herself admitted recently.

You Tube is very different from Fox. It is democracy in action, warts and all, and that is what it appears Romney and Giuliani are dodging.

Since when did answering questions from real voters become undignified?

and evidently real voter’s questions about serious topics like climate change are “beneath” Mitt but raising money from millionaires in New York is not. Here it is straight from his horsey mouth:

Analysis Politics

How Many ‘Helpful’ Questions Can We Expect From Thursday’s GOP Debate Moderator Hugh Hewitt?

Ally Boguhn

Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt’s “focus” on getting answers from the GOP has been undermined by his own statements and failure to hold candidates accountable.

On Thursday night, the remaining GOP contenders for president will take the stage for their tenth debate. One of the moderators, a noted conservative, claims to care about getting real answers from candidates, but his history suggests otherwise.

Hosted by CNN, Telemundo, and the Salem Media Group at the University of Houston, the debate will be moderated by a representative from each of the three networks. For CNN, Wolf Blitzer will take the stage; Maria Celeste Arraras will represent Telemundo; and talk radio host Hugh Hewitt will be there for Salem Media Group.

This isn’t Hewitt’s first trip to the debate stage: The conservative radio personality participated as a panelist in the second GOP debate in September and moderated another on CNN in December.

“I am excited by the opportunity to continue to help shape the conversation about which of the candidates ought to be the GOP nominee in 2016,” Hewitt said in an October statement regarding his future participation in debates. “My focus remains on posing questions that elicit answers GOP primary voters will find helpful in casting their ballots …. I’ve done over 50 in-depth interviews with the candidates who remain in the field and will continue to invite them onto my radio show between now and March to pose tough, straightforward questions. There’s no better way for me or for them to prepare.”

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But Hewitt’s “focus” on getting answers from the GOP has been undermined by his own statements and failure to hold candidates accountable.

In September, Hewitt faced heavy criticism from conservative media figures after the radio host asked candidate Donald Trump a question about foreign policy during an interview on his program, The Hugh Hewitt Show, seemingly hoping to test his knowledge of terrorist organizations. When Trump was unable to come up with an answer, he lashed out against Hewitt, accusing him of posing a “gotcha question” and claiming it was a “ridiculous” one for Hewitt to have asked. Hewitt initially defended his questions; eventually, however, he backtracked amid backlash from fellow conservatives, saying that Trump “legitimately misunderstood” the question and taking responsibility himself for the candidate’s inability to muster an answer. “I framed the question wrong,” he told MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

The Washington Post in December chalked Hewitt’s repeated inclusion in the GOP debates up to “Republican carping,” after candidates repeatedly claimed they were treated unfairly by CNBC moderators during the third debate.

That same month, in an episode of NPR’s All Things Considered, the show’s hosts discussed the matter with the chief strategist of the Republican National Committee (RNC), Sean Spicer, who explained that Hewitt was included in the debates as part of the party’s push to gain more control over what occurs during the events.

“The media controls all aspects of the debate—when they were going to debate, how many there were, where they were. And really, what this came down to was the Party recognizing that while the media has a huge role to play, that ultimately, people are seeking our nomination and that we should have the responsibility to make sure that that process is a little bit more orderly,” Spicer said.

Hewitt’s own commentary also raises confusion about the kinds of answers he’ll be seeking. In January during an appearance on CNN’s New Day, Hewitt concluded that even when candidates are wrong, “fact-checking doesn’t matter,” and that “personality and aura” mattered more.

It isn’t just Hewitt’s ability to fact-check others that is in question, but also whether he has his own facts straight. In the wake of the deadly shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood late last year, the conservative radio host invited Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on his program to discuss the matter. Dismissing those who tied the clinic violence to increasingly threatening rhetoric, Hewitt claimed that he had never met an anti-choice activist who favored violence.

“I have never met, not once, a single pro-life activist who is in favor of violence of any sort. Have you, Senator Cruz?” Hewitt asked the Republican presidential candidate.

Cruz agreed, “I have not.”

As Cruz himself stated in 2015, however, “Rhetoric and language do indeed have consequences.” The rhetoric about abortion employed by conservatives and GOP politicians, especially in the wake of the deceptively edited videos released by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), is no exception. The FBI has found that it has led to an increase in clinic violence; according to reports, the alleged Planned Parenthood shooter used the same language invoked by conservatives discussing the videos to justify his acts.

And Cruz does in fact know of anti-choice proponents who favor violence—he has even been endorsed by one. In November, prior to his interview with Hewitt, Cruz welcomed the endorsement of Troy Newman, the head of the extreme anti-choice group Operation Rescue, who harassed Dr. George Tiller for years prior to the abortion provider’s assassination. Although Newman later condemned Tiller’s killer, the group nonetheless continued to associate with other extremists.

Hewitt’s assertion in November comes as no surprise, however, as he has consistently defended the CMP videos since their release. During an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press in September, Hewitt stood up for then-presidential candidate Carly Fiorina after she falsely claimed the anti-choice videos depicted a “fully-formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking.” Although numerous fact-checkers debunked Fiorina’s claim, Hewitt stood by it, claiming that Fiorina simply misspoke and that the media had taken her comments out of context.

“I don’t agree that [the CMP videos] are highly edited. This is highly edited. The debate the other day was highly edited,” Hewitt claimed according to the program’s transcripts, before suggesting that Planned Parenthood should be defunded.

The month before, during an interview with Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) on his radio program, Hewitt had referred to the CMP videos while questioning whether the presidential candidate would “push back against the war on women tag” he suggested Republicans would face in this election cycle. “No one can defend this,” Hewitt said, referring to the claims made against Planned Parenthood in the debunked videos.

Perhaps even more alarming is Hewitt’s assertion that he will not address reproductive rights and health at all in the debates, having criticized previous moderators who did so.

During an interview with Bloomberg Politics in early 2015, Hewitt discussed how he came to have a role in the debates. “This is really all Reince Priebus’ doing,” Hewitt claimed, referring to the head of the RNC. “Of all the things he’s done, getting conservative journalists on the panels is probably his lasting legacy. Our issues are not the standard issues people hear about. The conservative primary voter has been frustrated with Republican debates for as long as I remember. They don’t hear the questions asked that they want answered by people who want their votes.”

When asked what questions he had objected to during the 2012 election cycle, Hewitt pointed back to a moment when George Stephanopoulos asked Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney about whether states had the right to ban contraception. The question came just days after Republican candidate Rick Santorum asserted that he did believe states had that right.

“There wasn’t one conservative in 2012 who wanted to make birth control inaccessible to women. Not one. Zero,” Hewitt claimed. “And so when George Stephanopoulos asked about birth control in New Hampshire, I thought it summed up very nicely the problem with using even good journalists like him, a former Clinton operative. That question would never come from a conservative journalist. It’s not a debate. It doesn’t exist.”

When asked whether he would ask questions about birth control or abortion during a debate, Hewitt replied that “it does not seem to be on my top shelf,” because all of the candidates are anti-choice. “I can’t imagine I’d be asking questions from the mindset that those questions are important,” he concluded.

Now in 2016, Republicans such as Ted Cruz are again falsely claiming that no members of the GOP are trying to ban birth control. This ignores a years-long crusade by members of the party to do just that, through attempts to pass “personhood” measures, which could outlaw many forms of contraception, attacks on the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit, and other restrictions.

Can Hewitt be trusted to ask about these topics, let alone push back on Republicans’ misinformation about them, given his own admissions that he doesn’t believe fact-checking matters or that reproductive health is worth discussing?

Analysis Politics

Will Dumping Telemundo Cost the GOP the Latino Vote?

Tina Vasquez

The rapidly changing demographics of the U.S. Latino community might suggest language alone is not as important as it used to be, but advocates and researchers say that the GOP is making a grave mistake by failing to engage any and all Spanish-speaking voters in every possible medium.

In last night’s Republican debate, candidates finally addressed immigration head-on. Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called for comprehensive immigration reform, while Donald Trump cited President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s approach to deporting immigrants in the 1950s as a way of rationalizing his plan to mass deport 11 million people, including the U.S. citizen children of undocumented immigrants.

This was definitely an improvement in terms of time devoted to the topic from the last Republican debate in Colorado, where immigration was given little airtime. During that contentious GOP/CNBC debate, GOP candidates became so incensed about the questions posed by CNBC’s moderators that immediately following the event, the Republican National Committee (RNC) moved to suspend its partnership with the NBC network, with the party’s only Spanish-language debate this primary season a casualty of that decision.

Telemundo, a co-host with NBC News of the canceled debate, would not comment on the GOP’s decision, though a representative from the news station did direct Rewire to NBC’s statement, which said: “This is a disappointing development. However, along with our debate broadcast partners at Telemundo we will work in good faith to resolve this matter with the Republican Party.”

The rapidly changing demographics of the U.S. Latino community might suggest language alone is not as important as it used to be, but advocates and researchers say that the GOP is making a grave mistake by failing to engage any and all Spanish-speaking voters in every possible medium.

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Latinos are the nation’s largest minority and one of its fastest-growing populations. U.S.-born Latinos now outnumber those born outside of the United States. With the rise of U.S.-born Latinos comes a sharp decline in the percentage of Latinos who speak Spanish exclusively at home. A Pew Research Center survey found that in 2013, 89 percent of U.S.-born Latinos spoke English proficiently. Also, a growing share of Latino adults are consuming television, print, radio, and Internet news in English, while a declining share are doing so in Spanish. Political strategists, journalists, and everyone in between are also writing about low voter turnout in Latino communities.

Perhaps these are some the factors the GOP considered when deciding to cancel its only Spanish-language debate, but for advocates this is just another example of how, regardless of the language, GOP candidates don’t value Latino voters. This time it’s even more of an insult given the 2012 GOP autopsy report, which called for Republicans to embrace Latino voters.

After Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election, pulling in just 23 percent of the Latino vote, the RNC released the report to show how the party might address its shortcomings. Among other things, it recommended the GOP “invest financial resources in Hispanic media” because attracting “these groups to our Party and candidates, our budgets, and expenses need to reflect this importance.” The RNC’s report also said GOP surrogates should have “a high-level presence on all Latino media” to “help carry and sell our message to the Hispanic community.” Yet, there will be no Spanish-language debate for the Republican primary this campaign season.

Forty million Latinos will be eligible to vote in 2030, up from about 25 million in 2014. There are nationwide efforts to engage young Latino voters, from online voter registration meant to appeal to tech-savvy millennials to an unprecedented number of Latino-focused voter education campaigns. The Southwest Voter Registration Education Project’s (SVREP) Jalapeño Challenge may be the most interesting push, challenging participants to either post a video of themselves on YouTube eating a jalapeno or, if they “can’t hang,” to donate $16 to the organization to register a voter. SVREP, which is the largest and oldest nonpartisan Latino voter participation organization in the nation, created the challenge in response to Trump’s anti-immigrant hate speech and as a way of mobilizing the nearly eight million voting-age Mexican Americans not currently registered to vote.

Advocates have asserted that understanding how to engage the Latino community should be a top priority for all presidential candidates, especially as those on both sides of the political spectrum will need Latino votes to carry them in crucial swing states like Nevada, Colorado, and Florida.

The conventional wisdom has been that Republicans need at least 40 percent of the Latino vote to win an election, a reference to the so-called Latino threshold reached in the 2004 election, when George W. Bush won 44 percent of the Latino vote. But Latino Decisions, a political opinion research organization, recently debunked the assumptions behind the threshold, reporting that the figure “assumes that the Bush-Kerry demographics of 2004 are still in effect, even though that election was 12 years ago.”

Given that the GOP will need a much higher percentage of the Latino vote than previously thought, the party must begin laying the groundwork to make that a reality. Canceling their only Spanish-language debate is not a helpful step toward following the autopsy’s recommendations and unlike previous elections, a considerable amount of additional work must be done because of the headlines Trump has been making.

Antonio Gonzalez, who is president of SVREP and has navigated the ups and downs of the Republican Party’s relationship with Latinos, including their wildly different stances on immigration, said that just by virtue of giving someone like Trump a platform, an “immeasurable” amount of work must be done to improve the GOP’s image in the Latino community.

Gonzalez told Rewire that in focusing on the past, the GOP is also failing to take current debates, such as the party’s association with anti-immigrant individuals and policies, into account.

“What Republicans seem to forget about Bush getting over 40 percent of the vote is that he didn’t put himself in the anti-immigrant pot. Immigration is one of the single most important topics to Latinos and Trump has committed a huge political sin,” Gonzalez said. “The Republican Party has to figure out how to heal this self-inflicted wound in the media era—that is to say, the 24-hour news cycle where everything you say stays on the Internet forever. You can’t say one thing in California and another in Ohio. You can’t get away with that anymore and because of that, so much brand damage is being done.”

Some, like former political consultant Avi Green, say there is more than enough time for the GOP to repair its relationship with Latinos before Election Day, but Gonzalez told Rewire that whatever repairs can be done will not be sufficient for a Republican to carry the 2016 presidency.

While Latinos may not need a Spanish-language debate, having one could act as a needed symbolic gesture—because Latinos are paying attention and according to advocates and researchers, what they’re hearing isn’t good. Gonzalez said that of the millions of Latino voters, a small percentage are seasoned voters who have a better understanding of nuances during election season. Five million, he said, are new to voting and more apt to make blanket judgments based on the snippets of news they see.

“That’s five million people who heard Trump call Mexicans rapists. Trump is a Republican nominee, therefore all Republicans are bad,” Gonzalez said commenting on what new Latino voters might be thinking when they go to the polls. “What the GOP didn’t calculate for is that by allowing Trump this platform, there are more eyes on them than ever before. We have never seen viewing numbers like this for primary debates. Latinos are really paying attention to what these candidates are saying about immigration and Marco Rubio speaking Spanish and Jeb Bush pushing for immigration reform doesn’t fix what’s been done.”

The fact that the GOP decided not to do a Spanish-language debate at all is why the work of organizations like Mobilize the Immigrant Vote (MIV) becomes so crucial, advocates said. MIV, according to its website, “amplifies the voices of low-income immigrant and New American communities of color,” two populations parties on both sides fail to engage, and not just during election season.

MIV’s Suguey Hernandez is a senior field organizer and a first-generation Mexican American. From that intersection, she told Rewire, she has seen how many segments of immigrant populations are dismissed entirely with the assumption that these populations can’t vote, so why try?

“The issue is that engaging these communities requires building trust and that requires an investment a lot of politicians aren’t willing to make,” Hernandez said. “You have to really value grassroots leadership and not just during an election season. The strength of the alliances we’ve built with 11 other organizations is that we all understand civic engagement isn’t just about pushing folks to go out and vote. It’s about prioritizing the needs of these communities and not just engaging them when you want them to show up for you during election time.”

Organizations like MIV that build multiethnic alliances to address immigration shouldn’t be a rarity, given the drastically different populations that immigration affects, but “immigration” has become synonymous with “Latino”and that’s a problem.

“It’s very harmful that immigration is only seen as a Latino issue,” Hernandez said. “The way that it erases non-Latino immigrants, including Black immigrants, leads to the idea that there is not only a homogenous Latino population whose relationship to immigration is the same, but it also creates community issues where certain populations are advocated for and see advancements and other communities don’t.”

From a voting perspective alone, this should inspire candidates to re-evaluate how they’re engaging immigrant communities and people of color as a whole. In California, for example, people of color became the majority of voters in 2014 and soon, they will become the majority of voters across the country. Advocates strongly argue that politicians can no longer afford not to engage these communities in real ways.

Echoing Gonzalez, Hernandez said Latinos are noticing how these issues are addressed and how little immigration has been addressed by GOP candidates. This, despite refugee crises at home and abroad.

“At a very basic level, not having a debate on Telemundo that addresses the issues of such a large segment of the population—and I mean immigrants and people of color—just reads as disrespectful,” Hernandez said. “That disrespect is going to have a lot of consequences.”

Pew research found that the growing U.S.-born Latino population is markedly younger, with a median age of 19 years “compared with 40 among immigrant Hispanics.” Every month, 50,000 Latinos celebrate their 18th birthdays.

Community leaders note that young people today are politically active in ways that won’t benefit the GOP. Hernandez said that countless times during recent community events, young people have approached her to say that they were inspired to vote so “the other side doesn’t win.”

“So many people are overlooked, dismissed, or mistreated during this [election] process,” Hernandez said. “I can’t speak for all Latinos and MIV doesn’t speak for all new citizens, but I thought a conversation with my mom, a recent naturalized citizen, was very telling. I asked her how she felt about the GOP pulling out of the Telemundo debate. She said, ‘We don’t need a Spanish-language debate to know how they feel about us.’”