The Republican National Committee voted Friday to exert stronger control over the 2016 presidential primary debate process, acting on concerns that the lengthy and fractious 2012 debate process damaged eventual presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
On Thursday, the RNC rules panel approved the creation of a committee, comprised of 13 people, that would limit the total number of debates and determine who would serve as debate moderators. And on Friday, during a spring meeting in Memphis, Tenn., the full committee endorsed that proposal by a vote of 152 to 7.
"Spending too much time fighting with each other distracts the party from its ultimate goal, which is winning the presidency," said rules committee chairman Bruce Ash, according to the Associated Press.
In addition to limiting the number of debates, the new rules would also penalize candidates who agree to participate in forums that aren't sanctioned by the RNC by denying them the opportunity to participate in later committee-endorsed events.
Though the new rules do not specifically pick debate moderators, they do propose to give conservative journalists a bigger role in the process.For some Republicans, concerns about debate referees in 2012 were crystallized in the second general election debate between President Obama and Romney, which was moderated by CNN's Candy Crowley. During that face-off, Crowley at one point corrected Romney's erroneous charge that the president did not label the September 2012 attack in Benghazi an act of terror.
While the eventual tally was overwhelmingly in favor of the rule change, some committee members expressed reservations.
"You're going to squelch the ability of candidates to get to know their voter base, and the voter base to get to know their candidates," Diana Orrock, a national committeewoman from Nevada, told the AP. "As a voter...I want to see the good, the bad and the ugly."RNC Chairman Reince Priebus has been pushing for over a year to overhaul the primary debate process.
"I think our debate calendar needs to be shrunk. I think we had way too many debates with our candidates slicing and dicing each other," Priebus said last March on CBS News' "Face the Nation." "I would do one a month. I would have more say over the moderators, more say over the debate partners. I would limit the debate to a reasonable amount."
Democrats have mocked the RNC's drive to rein in primary debates as an attempt to hide Republicans' rougher edges. "Better RNC debate plan. Held in hermetically sealed Fox studio," tweeted David Plouffe, a former adviser to President Obama, last year. "Avoid exposing swing voters to Crazy S*#t My Nominee Says."