Donald Trump once again has surprised the other Republican presidential campaigns late on Monday, announcing that he would break from a group seeking to gain control over the debate process and go it alone. The Hill reported on its Tuesday front page in an article penned by Jonathan Easley.
Despite sending a representative to Sunday night’s campaign debate meeting along with a number of other candidates. Also despite even seemingly being on board with their preliminary plans to propose changes to the existing debate format in a letter that the group was planning to send to the networks later this week. Things changed very quickly late last night as Trump once again went rogue on the other campaigns as well as the RNC.
By early this morning four candidates Trump, Chris Christie, John Kasich and Carly Fiorina had all announced that they would not sign a letter to networks detailing proposed formats for future debates, some people involved in the talks conceded that it would be difficult to move forward given the lack of unity.
So, it seems that whatever was agreed upon by the campaigns who met in Northern Virginia on Sunday is likely worthless today.
Just a little more than 24 hours after the Republican campaigns declared they were seizing debate negotiating power from the Republican National Committee as they hoped that they could empower themselves to deal with networks.
It now looks like the RNC and Trump are in the driver’s seat in the GOP debate business.
The Washington Post first reported late Monday that Trump would reject the group letter and instead negotiate with the networks on his own.
“As we have for the previous three debates, the Trump campaign will continue to negotiate directly with the host network to establish debate criteria that will determine Mr. Trump’s participation,” a spokesman for the GOP front-runner said in an email to The Hill. “This is no different than the process that occurred prior to the FOX, CNN, and CNBC debates.”
Trump’s reversal on Monday came as news to the rest of the campaigns that, having wrested control of the process from the Republican National Committee, had gathered the night before in hopes of presenting a united front to the networks.
Meanwhile, the networks were telling the Washington Post that they were reluctant to deal with any of the candidate demands that might have come out of Sunday’s meeting.
According to the Post the networks felt they had already dealt in good faith with the Republican National Committee in setting up the present schedule. They are now willing to listen to possible minor changes but there is unlikely to be any concessions that would include say over which network reporters or anchors could host or serve on a debate panel or as a moderator.
“We agreed to this and now you’re saying you’re not agreeing?” said one executive who was granted anonymity in order to speak candidly to the Post. “Do you want Ben Carson deciding who your moderators are? The answer is no,” said another. “Do you want Bobby Jindal’s campaign dictating how the debates will be run when Bobby Jindal may not even be in the race much longer?”
The confusion marked the latest turn in a debate process that has grown more problematic by the day. Officials with the Republican National Committee took control of the process for the 2016 presidential election after a long and eventful debate season that many in the party thought hurt its chances in 2012.
But the campaigns have been quietly irritated by the rigid process all year and broke into open revolt last week. The RNC responded by suspending NBC from hosting its Feb. 26 event, and it put a new staffer in charge of managing the debates.
“The Trump and Carson campaigns have the opportunity to drive this forward in a good way,” Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told The Hill just hours before Trump backed away from the group. “These two [candidates] are far and away the front-runners, so that’s a factor in who has leverage.”
Now, the campaigns have lost the billionaire businessman and the negotiating power he would have brought to the table.
Campaign advisers said they were annoyed, but not surprised, by Trump’s power play. They worry that he’ll negotiate only for those things that benefit his campaign.
All of the major commercial broadcast and cable news networks are scheduled to televise Republican debates through early March. The next debate, to be hosted by Fox Business Network on Nov. 10, is scheduled to go on as planned.
By negotiating on his own, Trump will aim to mold the debates to his liking, though it is unclear exactly what terms he will demand. One likely desire will be to limit the debates to two hours after the marathon three hour CNN debate in September, Trump and Carson pushed CNBC to limit its forum to two hours and the network agreed.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama on Monday mocked Republican presidential candidates as thin-skinned for lashing out at CNBC over the network’s handling of last week’s primary debate.
“They say, ‘when I talk to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, he’s going to straighten out,'” he said at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in New York City. “And then it turns out they can’t handle a bunch of CNBC moderators.”