Michael Steele: Priebus Playing to GOP Base With Debate Threats

Tuesday, 06 Aug 2013 05:56 PM

By Greg Richter

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Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele says the man who took his place isn't really talking to NBC and CNN when he threatens to not allow them to sponsor GOP debates.

Reince Priebus is playing to the Republican base, drawing some lines and staying relevant to the conversation, Steele said Tuesday on MSNBC's "Hardball."

Asked by host Chris Matthews what he would have done if he still held the job, Steele said he would have done exactly the same thing.

"The smart political move is what he's doing," Steele said. "It is the late summer of 2013. It's just noise into an echo that has no one on the other end to hear it."

All will be forgotten by as the election nears in 2016, Steele said, and Priebus, or whoever the RNC chairman is at the time, will then have to tone down the rhetoric to appeal to a broader audience.

Priebus sent letters to CNN and NBC Monday after he learned the two networks planned to run a documentary and a movie on expected Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. In the letters, he demanded the networks not air the movies before the election or the RNC would not sanction any GOP debates on their networks.

On Fox News Channel's "Hannity" on Monday, Priebus explained that the RNC now has rules that allow it to set the debate calendar and approve moderators. If candidates appear in debates outside those approved by the RNC they would be penalized.

"I don't get what the penalty's going to be," Steele responded on MSNBC, "because if I'm a presidential candidate and NBC is offering a debate and I want to participate in that debate, I'm going to participate in it. I don't know how you penalize that candidate, particularly if he ends up eventually being the nominee of the party."

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