Norquist: Don’t let Limbaugh, Levin moderate 2016 debates

Grover Norquist is strongly opposed to letting conservative talk show hosts moderate the 2016 Republican presidential primary debates.

Norquist, a conservative leader who heads the anti-taxation Americans for Tax Reform, told The Hill Tuesday the Republican Party should instead incorporate Republican officeholders into its debate format.

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Having conservative talk radio hosts Mark Levin or Rush Limbaugh host debates would be “not useful,” Norquist told The Hill. Talk radio hosts, he said, are primarily entertainers who would draw attention away from the candidates themselves.

He also said the radio hosts, despite their popularity, did not necessarily represent the Republican mainstream. He pointed toward immigration reform as an example, saying that while Levin opposes comprehensive immigration reform fiercely, polls show most Republicans are amenable to it.

Asked in August about the possibility of Levin or other conservative talk show hosts moderating a debate, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said it was a “a very good idea” as such figures “actually understand the base of the Republican Party, the primary voters.”

Priebus made the comment amid a fight with CNN and NBC, two networks the RNC decided would not host 2016 GOP debates unless they scrapped plans for films focused on Hillary Clinton, a possible Democratic presidential candidate in 2016.

Norquist said he wanted primary debates to incorporate party members in a bigger way while limiting the role of the media.

He said prospective presidential candidates should be questioned by Republican governors, attorneys general, and other elected Republicans instead of radio show hosts.

“What you want is Republican questions for Republican guys so that the Republicans can be informed in a primary,” Norquist said.

Norquist said the primary debates of 2011 and 2012 gave the media too much control over the process, letting moderators steer debates toward topics whose only purpose was to “entertain the moderator.”

“[We’ve got] Anderson Cooper asking all the Republicans about gay marriage,” he said. “Then people watching it on TV go, ‘Well, the Republicans seem pretty obsessed about gay marriage.’ No, Anderson Cooper is fascinated by the subject of gay marriage.”

Norquist also suggested that primary debates could feature appearances by leaders in different fields or policy areas.

“[Currently] the press comes in and says, ‘We’re the neutral party’ and then they ask all the non-neutral questions,” he said. “I’d rather have, ‘And now here’s the high-tech community asking high-tech questions.' "