RNC Should De-Regulate the 2016 Presidential Debates

DebatesThis week members of the Republican National Committee gathered in Phoenix for the organization’s spring meeting. One of the big topics on the agenda was a discussion about what type of criteria will be used to determine who can participate in the twelve party sanctioned Republican primary debates.

In previous cycles, news organizations controlled every aspect of the debates, including when and where it would be held, who the moderator would be, and the criteria used to determine which candidates would be allowed to participate.   In an effort to limit the number of debates, the RNC took the entire debate process over, and now is beginning to realize that there are some negative side effects that come with calling all the shots.

The biggest conundrum the RNC must try to solve is how to pare down the current field of candidates so that there can be an actual debate amongst the candidates. There are currently six officially declared candidates, another seven who are formally exploring a presidential run, and three others who have pending announcements planned. That’s 16 candidates, and the crazy part of all this is that these are all legitimate candidates. The list includes four current U.S. Senators, one former senator, four current governors, four former governors, and three political outsiders.

Jonathan Martin of the New York Times wrote an interesting article about this, with great insight from the campaigns that may find themselves on the bubble. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza provided a glimpse of what the debate stage may look like if traditional criteria were used. Donald Trump, who Cillizza loathes, would be in, Santorum, Kasich, Graham, Jindal, Fiorina, and Pataki would be out. You can now see why this gives the RNC some heartburn.

I have always found it strange that the Republican Party, which supports free market ideas and opposes burdensome regulations, sought to highly regulate its own nomination process. The best thing the RNC could do is deregulate the debate process and let it all work itself out. Organizations, especially political ones, are always afraid of the unknown, but they would be wise to let go of the debate process.

The news media, some campaigns, and even a few activists have already begun to gripe about the weekly cattle-calls that seem to have taken the place of the debates. It used to be exciting to see all the candidates on the same stage because it was a rare occurrence, but now, the Republican presidential race resembles the NASCAR schedule where the teams all show up to race every weekend on the same track. What’s oddly missing in the Republican presidential race is actual campaigning.

Deregulating the debates actually makes a lot of sense when you have such an expansive and talented field of candidates. Instead of demanding each candidate’s participation, it should be optional given that there are risks and rewards to both participating and not participating in a televised debate.

Allow yourself to game plan this out in your head a bit. In Iowa, where Dr. Ben Carson, Sen. Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Governor Bobby Jindal, and Rick Santorum are all courting the evangelical/born-again Christian vote in the state, let them duke it out on the stage. If Sen. Rand Paul and Governor Scott Walker want to partake in the fun – the more the merrier. Even though a number of major formidable candidates would likely not participate, such a debate would prove to be very helpful to Iowans and other social conservatives who have not yet made up their minds as to who to support.

Maybe in South Carolina there is a debate on foreign policy. One would imagine that most of the candidates would participate in a debate on that subject, but who knows. Let the candidates decide which debates they feel are in their best interest to participate in, and let the news organization hosting the debate figure out the criteria used to determine who is allowed to participate.

Let’s be honest, the perceived frontrunner is probably not going to attend all the debates, given that they often become contests in which the only way one wins is to not get attacked by another candidate. The underdogs are going to ride the circuit and participate in every debate they are allowed to be in. The fact of the matter is that all the campaigns are going to have to strike the right balance of debates to participate in.

There is also a risk once the RNC criteria begins to exclude certain candidates. Once candidates are excluded, then there is no reason for them avoid accepting invitations from local news organizations or new media outlets where they might debate other candidates who also weren’t allowed to debate. On its face you might not think it would be all that interesting, but a debate between Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham and Carly Fiorina would actually be pretty interesting.

The RNC would be smart to take a step back and let the natural process take place. I would have more faith that everything will sort itself out if the RNC were not involved in the debates. It’s time to deregulate the GOP debates.

Quick Hits:

Road Trip

Every Friday, I do a radio segment on WTAD 930 AM. The show originates out of Quincy, Illinois, and can be heard in southeast Iowa. Last Friday I got up early and headed down to do the show in studio. A great time was had by all, and besides the regular hosts making fun of me, we also did an interview with former Texas Governor Rick Perry.

It’s hard not to like Rick Perry. Heck, it’s impossible not to respect the man after watching the video about his and his wife’s relationship with Marcus Luttrell. It gives me goose bumps just writing about it. I recommend that you take a couple minutes and watch the three-minute video below.

Anyway, near the end of our interview (18 min mark), Perry said, “You’ve got a big supporter of your Iowa Republican website in my wife. She reads it every day. So know that she’s keep up on what’s going on in Iowa.” I then quickly reminded him to make sure she’s not checking out the comment section. Sorry guys, but you can be a little cantankerous from time to time.

If any other spouse of a presidential candidate is a regular reader please let me know! Also, Mrs. Perry just joined Twitter. You can follow her @AnitaPerryTX

The Great Debate: Should a woman be a chairman?

It must have been a slow news day for the Des Moines Register. On Tuesday, Jennifer Jacobs devoted way too many words on the subject of whether Iowa women find it offensive that Carly Fiorina said that she was a “chairman” of a certain board when she was in town last week.

When I asked my wife about it she just gave me a puzzled look, like she didn’t understand what I was even talking about or why this would actually bother anyone. Anyway, it’s apparent that Jacobs couldn’t find anyone at the event who was put off by it, so she found some Democrats to make it an issue. I wasn’t at the event, but somebody who was sent me the following.

“The only debate that was ‘fueled’ by the Fiorina Chair comment was Jennifer Jacobs being annoyed.  Seriously. Jacobs walked around the room asking people for their feedback on it.  When she didn’t get the answer she was looking for, she moved on to someone else until she did. It was ridiculous.”

I bet when Jennifer was in grade school, her report card often said, “has trouble making friends.”

I would have been shocked if George Stephanopoulos didn’t give to the Clinton Foundation.

Politico reported on Thursday that ABC NEWS’ George Stephanopoulos donated a total of $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation from 2012 to 2014. Conservatives were in an uproar that the journalist, who has moderated presidential debates in the past, would donate to a Clinton affiliated cause. Stephanopoulos has apologized and said that he will not be moderating any 2016 presidential debates.

Frankly, I don’t really understand what the fuss is all about. Stephanopoulos is where he is today because of Bill Clinton. In 1988, he worked for Michael Dukakis, then he worked for Dick Gephardt when Gephardt was the Majority Leader in the U.S. House. He played a major role in Bill Clinton’s campaign and then was often in front of the camera during Clinton’s first term. He left the White House and began a media career with ABC News. Sure he has a partisan background, but he’s also pretty good at what he does. And he really owes a lot to Bill Clinton. So I’m not surprised he is a contributor to the Clinton Foundation. But it’s also probably a good thing that he won’t be moderating any debates, not so much because of the donations, but because of his personal relationship with the Clintons.

If Republicans are in up in arms over Stephanopoulos donating $75k, they are probably really pissed at Donald Trump, who gave the foundation $105,000.