How many GOP presidential debates is too many?
The Republican National Committee announced Friday it would limit the number of presidential primary debates and forums during the 2016 election cycle, acting on concerns that the seemingly endless series of primary debates in 2012 damaged the party's nominee and brand ahead of the general election.
The new rules issued Friday would cut the total number of primary debates dramatically, to at least nine. The first debate will take place in August in Ohio, and the next eight debates will run through February 29, 2016, just after the South Carolina primary. Those eight events, in chronological order, will be held in California, Colorado, Wisconsin, Nevada, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida. Sponsors include CBS News, Fox News, CNN, CNBC, Fox Business Network, ABC News, and NBC/Telemundo.
Each media outlet will set its own threshold for candidate participation, according to the RNC. Those thresholds will likely become more stringent as the primaries continue and the field of candidates is winnowed.
A number of states hold primaries in March and April, and if the nomination has not been decided by that time, there could be three more debates. If those events are held, they will be sponsored by Fox, CNN, and an unspecified conservative media outlet.
The announcement follows the RNC's vote in May to establish a committee charged with coming up with the number of sanctioned debates and choosing the media outlets that moderate and air the debates.
There were 27 GOP debates and forums in 2012, according to Election Central, if you count the two "Lincoln-Douglas" debates that pitted Newt Gingrich against Herman Cain in one and against Jon Huntsman in the other. Party leaders believe the numerous opportunities for candidates to attack one another took a toll.
"I'm trying to limit the opportunity we have to kill each other," RNC Chairman Reince Priebus told the Washington Post. "I've always tried to be a person that sells what I control. I don't like to sell things I don't control. I don't control people's mouths, that's for sure, but what I do control is the length of time we have to kill each other."
Priebus said 2012 debates were "an embarrasment" and "ridiculous," and he vowed after the election to bring the debate process under a tighter yoke by the time 2016 came around.
The new rules include stiff penalties aimed at forcing candidates to adhere to the prearranged debate schedule: any candidate who participates in a non-sanctioned debate would be banned from subsequent forums.
The new rules also give the RNC a greater degree of control over the moderators and sponsors of the debates -- a move borne out of concern that some mainstream media outlets wouldn't give Republican candidates a fair shake. Details are sketchy, but in a press release, the RNC expressed a desire for a larger "conservative media presence" during the debate season.
Steve Duprey, a RNC committeeman from New Hampshire and the head of the committee that reviewed the debate process, told the Post that his committee heard a desire for "conservative voices" as debate moderators, but he rebuffed the argument that the committee was trying to protect candidates from media scrutiny.
"Any candidate who can't handle a tough question from a perhaps unfriendly member of the media probably isn't ready to stand up to Vladimir Putin," he said.
The RNC announced earlier this week that the national party convention would be held July 18-21 in 2016 - more than a month earlier than the 2008 and 2012 conventions. Caucuses and primaries will also begin later this year than in years past. It's all part of a broader effort to compress the primary season and put Republicans in fighting shape for the general election.
"By constructing and instituting a sound debate process, it will allow candidates to bring their ideas and vision to Americans in a timely and efficient way," said Priebus in a press release announcing the new debate schedule. "This schedule ensures we will have a robust discussion among our candidates while also allowing the candidates to focus their time engaging with Republican voters. It is exciting that Republicans will have such a large bench of candidates to choose from, and the sanctioned debate process ensures voters will have a chance to gain a chance to hear from them."
CBS News' Nancy Cordes contributed to this report.
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