Representatives from more than a dozen campaigns met behind closed doors for nearly two hours Sunday night in suburban Washington, a meeting that was not expected to yield many results given the competing interests of several candidates. Yet they emerged having agreed to several changes to be outlined in a letter to debate hosts in the coming days.
The top campaigns led by representative of Dr. Ben Carson and Donald Trump made one thing is clear and that is the Republican National Committee will no longer be calling the debate shots. The two front runners are not fans of the RNC and feel that taking control of the debate process will give them a better chance to make sure they stay on top.
Going forward, the RNC will continue to be involved in debate operations, campaign advisers said, such as media credentialing and ticket sales, but will not take the lead in negotiating the formats of the debates with the cable and broadcast networks.
The new changes include largely bypassing the RNC in coordinating with network hosts, mandatory opening and closing statements, an equal number of questions for the candidates, and preapproval of on screen graphics, according to Ben Carson campaign manager Barry Bennett, who hosted the meeting. He briefed the press after the first of what could be more debate meetings took place.
“The amazing part for me was how friendly the meeting was,” Bennett said, noting the private gathering was held in a room marked “family meeting.” “Everybody was cordial. We all agreed we need to have these meetings more regularly.”
“What it really comes down to is the candidates want to have more control of the ability to negotiate with the networks,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebussaid after the meeting.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus decided to suspend a partnership with NBC News and its properties on a debate set for February, but that wasn’t enough to satisfy the frustrated campaigns.
“We need to mature in the way that we do these debates if they’re going to be useful to the American people,” Carson told ABC’s “This Week.”
Although the campaigns agreed to the changes in principle Sunday night, the networks that host the debates are under no obligation to adopt them. Bennett suggested that campaigns could boycott debates to get their way.
“The only leverage we have is to not come,” he said.
For some camps a big issue here is the suspending of NBC/Telemundo debate set for Feb.26th because of the CNBC debate fall-out. It was the only bi-lingual debate and one seen critical to the GOP who need to do better in the Hispanic vote. The Bush camp wants this debate put back on the roster while the Trump camp is for the moment not in favor of seeing it return to the rotation.
Three debates remain before the first nomination contest, the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1st with the next one is scheduled for Nov. 10 in Milwaukee and set to air on Fox Business. The RNC has sanctioned five debates after the caucuses.