RNC to Reduce Primary Debates, Impose Penalties on Candidates

Friday, 09 May 2014 08:22 AM

By Drew MacKenzie

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The Republican National Committee plans to pare the number of GOP presidential primary debates after a secret panel decided that Mitt Romney was hurt by 20 such debates leading up to the 2012 election, according to reports.

The RNC proposed at a meeting in Memphis, Tenn., on Thursday to cut the debates by as much as half, impose penalties on candidates who take part in unsanctioned primary debates, and use moderators who ask more GOP-friendly questions, Politico reported.

The new rules were revealed after RNC Chairman Reince Priebus had secretly impaneled a nine-person committee, including himself, months ago to come up with a system to control the GOP primaries that would keep candidates in check, according to The Washington Times.

The full committee of 168 members agreed to a plan that would clamp down on candidates who take part in debates without approval from Republican leaders by banning them from entering debates that are sanctioned by the GOP, Politico's James Hohmann and Dylan Byers wrote.

The secret panel had initially proposed that candidates who participated in an early unsanctioned debate be stripped of the delegates the candidate wins in primaries held before February 2016, the Times reported.

The committee also decided that if a candidate joins an unsanctioned debate after February, the delegates that candidate wins in the seven days after the violation would be scrapped.

But these proposals were eventually shelved until at least the next RNC meeting in August, according to the Times.

"This is the product that made the most sense at the end of the day," said Georgia committee member Randy Evans, a senior adviser to Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign in 2012, according to Politico. He referred to the penalty barring candidates from sanctioned debates if they take part in unapproved versions.

But there is some dissent in the RNC on the new rules.

"I don’t think punishment is the way to go," Nevada committeewoman Diana Orrock told Politico. "As a voter, I want to see candidates in all possible venues. I want to see the good, the bad, and the ugly."

According to the reports, a 12-member panel under the direction of Priebus will be empowered to choose the place and time of the 2015-2016 primary debates, as well as pick the moderators.

Politico said that the benefactors of the new system are "top-tier" candidates who don’t necessarily need debates to bring attention to their political capabilities.

The lack of debate exposure could have a negative effect on potential "dark horse" candidates such as outspoken conservative Ben Carson, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and New York Rep. Peter King, Politico said.

But Priebus believes that the changes will not hurt or help any specific candidate.

"Privately, I’ve spoken to more than a few of the potential candidates, and overwhelmingly they support this," Priebus said, according to Politico. "Not even overwhelmingly — unanimously."

Due to concerns about liberal bias in the media, the changes in debate procedure also call for conservatives to join mainstream journalists as moderators. The GOP panelists are more likely to ask easier questions, Politico said.

In the last election, Republican candidates felt that they had been ambushed by the likes of ABC’s George Stephanopoulos and CNN’s Candy Crowley and the RNC isn’t going to let that happen this time.

"Any speech you give nowadays to the grass roots, there’s no bigger applause line than when you say, 'This time around, we’re going to have something to say about the moderators and debate partners,'" Priebus told Politico. "People go wild."

"They want good moderators that aren’t in the business of playing gotcha, and it’s our responsibility to become the custodian of the nomination process," he added. "The last couple cycles, the RNC forgot about their responsibility of being the custodian of the nomination process."

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