CNN and Tea Party Express to host GOP presidential debate in 2011

With Republicans anxious to find a leader who can unify their party and mount a successful challenge to President Obama for the White House, CNN and the Tea Party Express are teaming up to host a “Tea Party debate” next year during Labor Day week.

The Sacramento-based political action committee was founded in the summer of 2009 by Sal Russo and Howard Kaloogian, two Californians with major connections in the Republican Party. Russo worked as an aide to Ronald Reagan during his tenure as governor of California and Kaloogian is a former California state legislator and a leading force behind the successful 2003 recall of Governor Gray Davis.

The Tea Party Express gained notoriety for organizing bus trips of Tea Party activists across the country, stopping in major U.S. cities for rallies in favor of limiting the size, role, and influence of the Federal government, while channeling outrage against bailouts of private businesses and the exploding national debt.  Since then, the Tea Party Express has been instrumental in successfully advancing “Tea Party candidates” in Republican primaries over several establishment favorites throughout the nation.

Now, in partnership with CNN, the Tea Party Express will be hosting a presidential debate for Republican primary candidates in 2011, both organizations announced Friday. CNN Political Director, Sam Feist said:

“The Tea Party movement is a fascinating, diverse, grassroots force that already has drastically changed the country’s political landscape. Undecided voters turn to CNN to educate themselves during election cycles, so it is a natural fit for CNN to provide a platform for the diverse perspectives within the Republican Party, including those of the Tea Party.”

The Tea Party debate will place specific emphasis on “government spending, lower taxes, and shrinking the deficit.” Tea Party Express Chairman Amy Kremer told CNN:

“We want to hear what their ideas are – what their thoughts are – on turning this economy back around and getting us on a sound economic footing, paying down some of our deficit, getting a balanced budget, and reining in the spending.”

But for the Tea Party debate to truly be successful at educating voters about prospective GOP nominees, it must delve deeper than asking candidates about their thoughts and ideas. Moderators in the Tea Party debate should ask candidates hard questions about their actual records in government.

Many of the likely candidates for the nomination have been governors. Did the state’s budget grow during their tenure? Why? Those who have held legislative office should also be called to account for votes on deficit-expanding budgets and other large appropriations. Many likely candidates also reluctantly supported the TARP bailouts as a necessary evil in the Fall of 2008. They should be asked to explain themselves to a public that overwhelmingly opposed the TARP bill.

On the campaign trail, politicians always say what voters want to hear, but upon taking office, they frequently do the opposite. A truly rigorous debate and selection process for political office will require the media and electorate not to take politicians at their word, but to examine their actions. No real change in American electoral politics will ever happen until voters learn to ignore the personalities of candidates and start looking at their policies.