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RNC Efforts on Debates Crumbling As Candidates Defect

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By    |   Tuesday, 03 Nov 2015 02:10 PM

Ten GOP candidates' campaigns are still on board with their demands to renegotiate future debate terms with the nation's television networks, even after Donald Trump said he'd speak with the networks himself and three other candidates said they don't want their campaigns to be involved.

"The thing that's kind of being lost in this, is that you are starting to hear the campaigns saying they're going to start negotiating directly with the networks," Brett O'Donnell, Lindsey Graham's campaign strategist, told The Washington Post. "That's the most important thing coming out of this, when in times past, they've taken the network's instructions. The only point they're missing is that this isn't so much as a rivalry between campaigns as it is making sure nobody gets screwed."

Republican lawyer Ben Ginsberg, serving as the unofficial chairman of the group, has drafted a letter as an approach for the candidates' demands, but on Tuesday, they were still working on what that approach will mean.

Some of the candidates are still saying the effort is worth pursuing, but the campaigns of Carly Fiorina, Chris Christie, and John Kasich have used the efforts media coverage to voice their disapproval of the move and their push toward discussions of what they consider more important issues than debate guidelines.

On Tuesday Fiorina's deputy campaign manager, Sara Isgur Flores, appeared on Fox News, where she downplayed the other campaigns' efforts and repeated what she'd written in a widely-circulated letter, that while the other campaigns were arguing in Washington, she was having "dinner at the Applebee's in Pella, Iowa."

"The debates are a chance to see the candidates tested over time," Flores said Tuesday. "I don't think the temperature in the room and who gets the nicest greenroom will determine who our next president is. We were in Iowa meeting voters."

In her letter, Flores wrote that the Fiorina campaign is encouraging the Republican National Committee to sanction conservative news networks to host and moderate a debate, but meanwhile, "Team Carly will not be signing this letter."

Christie's campaign did send someone to Sunday's meeting, but on Monday told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program that the representative went to hear what had been said, but he has decided that that the other candidates need to quit complaining about the debates and he won't be involved in the protests. 

"Debates are about seeing how someone responds under pressure, seeing whether you can think on your feet," he said. " The presidency is going to make you think on your feet. If you can't do that, that's going to be a problem."

And Kasich's campaign spokesman Chris Schrimpf told reporters that as governor of a large state, Kasich is "used to answering tough questions all the time," and wouldn't be signing the group's letter. Kasich is also taking credit for the group's decision to attend the Fox Business News debate on Nov. 10 but not demand changes.

Even without Trump, many in the group believe Carson's campaign, which is pushing forward the effort, will give it the star power it needs, reports The Hill. Meanwhile, campaigns for lower-polling candidates like Graham, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee are still on board.

Jindal spokeswoman, Gail Gitcho, said that it does not matter whether the letter itself is signed so much as to continue a push back against the RNC and networks that "continue to try and winnow out candidates before the voters have a chance to weigh in. No matter who you are for, or what side you are on, that's just wrong."

Carson campaign manager, Barry Bennett, also said Trump's decision to strike out on his own does not make a difference, and said a finalized list of demands will be distributed among the campaigns.

Part of the problem is, though, that different candidates have different goals. Graham wants the debates split and determined by random selection, while Jindal wants the polls from early voting states like Iowa, where he ranks higher, to be included in the criteria networks use to determine who will be on the main stage.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus told Fox News Channel's "Hannity," that he's glad the campaigns want to have more control over the debate process.

The candidates have said they want a commitment from networks to switch from "gotcha" questions and from trying to get the candidates to fight amongst each other. They also want debates that only last for two hours, and more conservative moderators to run the events.

Other demands include a requirement of a 30-second minimum for opening statements, a ban on "lightning rounds" that deny a candidate opportunity to expand an answer, candidate pre-approval of biographical data in screen graphics, and a pledge that debate hall temperatures be kept below 67 degrees.

A final decision on whether the letter will be sent could come by Tuesday evening, but already, President Barack Obama has already been poking fun at the Republican complaints.

"They say, 'when I talk to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, he's going to straighten out'... and then it turns out they can't handle a bunch of CNBC moderators," he quipped at a Monday evening Democratic fundraiser in New York.

"If you can't handle those guys, I don't think the Chinese and the Russians are going to be too worried about you."

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Ten GOP candidates' campaigns are still on board with their demands to renegotiate future debate terms with the nation's television networks, even after Donald Trump said he'd speak with the networks himself and three other candidates said they don't want their campaigns to be involved.
gop debate, presidential debates, donald trump, ben carson, gop candidates
Tuesday, 03 Nov 2015 02:10 PM
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