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U.S. Republican presidential candidates gather before the start of their debate in Ames, Iowa August 11, 2011. They are (from L to R) Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman and Newt Gingrich. REUTER
How cool would it be to watch Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter moderate one of these?
Yes, it's true that Republican primary debates are bad for their party, and having 23 of them is patently ridiculous. Their problem is that they're crazy, and the less they remind America, the better they are.

But I see nothing wrong with the RNC wanting to cut out CNN, MSNBC or other traditional media outlets from the process. In fact, it makes good sense. Just like we revolted in 2008 when Fox News wanted to host a Democratic primary debate in Nevada, it makes sense for Republicans to seek friendly (and partisan!) news outlets for their primary tussles.

Remember, the primary process is designed to allow a party to nominate its leader. So let party luminaries drive the process ... in both parties! All of the below would sure beat any TV talking head—not just for substance, but for sheer entertainment value.

Partisan Media
This is the obvious one. Have Fox drive the GOP debates. MSNBC could do the Democratic ones. Imagine how awesome it would be to have Rachel Maddow helm our party's debates, focusing on issues of actual relevance to base voters (and not whatever bullshit is driving the Sunday morning talk shows that week). Imagine how entertaining it would be to have Rush Limbaugh moderate on the GOP side. Or Ann Coulter.

Sure, Limbaugh might spend all his time asking questions about Benghazi, but hey, that's what their candidates want to talk about and it's what their base wants to hear. So let them focus on the issues important to them, and we can do the same on our side. And I bet that no matter how crazy the GOP debates get, they'd still be more substantive than anything CNN could host.

Party figures
Why not have party elders do some of the moderation? Al Gore could zero attention on the environment, Rep. John Lewis could spark discussion on race and inequality. Let's have the people who know a topic the best lead a discussion on those topics. Republicans could trot out Zombie Reagan or Mitt Romney or Bob Dole or whoever. Dick Cheney even. Again, such moderators would presumably be less focused on gotchas and zingers, and more focused on a substantive discussion on real issues.

Issue experts
On the GOP side, have Wayne LaPierre around to push the candidates on guns, or Grover Norquist to discuss the finer points of drowning government in a bathtub. On our side, have the AFL-CIO's Richard Trumka push the candidates on labor or Planned Parenthood's Cecile Richards talk about issues of particular concern to women. Skip the vapid superficiality we get from the talking heads and substitute it with actual substance.

Regular people
We saw some of this already last cycle—pulling questions from YouTube or wherever, and it's a trend that can continue to be expanded. Screw the gatekeepers, keep finding ways to allow regular partisans the chance to ask questions of the people who would presume to lead their parties.

Having one or more of these types of moderators in a handful of debates would go a long way toward properly informing base partisans of their primary options, which should be the entire point of these early debates. Once the parties have their candidates and the nominating conventions are in the past, then the vapid CNN types can get in on the action. But until then, there's no reason for "non-partisan" types to have any say in the primaries. It's none of their business, actually.

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