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GOP changes debate rules for 2016

BY ALEKSANDRA VUJICIC | MAY 12, 2014 5:00 AM

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The Republican National Committee is tightening the reins for the 2016 presidential primary debates.

The RNC panel approved a new debate policy that aims to bring more structure and order to the process on May 9 on an overwhelming 152-7 vote, said Iowa National Committeeman Steve Scheffler.

“This is just the first step to kind of get control of the debates and the number of debates,” he said.

The new rules would penalize candidates who participate in non-sanctioned party debates by not allowing them to participate in subsequent sanctioned party debates. The party would also take control over how debates are handled by defining what qualifies as a sanctioned party debate. 

Scheffler said the next step is to define the difference between a sanctioned debate and a non-sanctioned debate. The Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates was created to work out the particular definition of the qualifications, which may include location, frequency, and media outlets associated with the debates.

Chairman of the Iowa Republican Party Danny Carroll said this enforcement mechanism is necessary because it would bring order and consistency in how the debates are handled.

“I was told that prospective candidates actually prefer the enforcement mechanism and in some cases thought it should be stronger,” Carroll said. “I think they’re interested in a level and predictable playing field in a debate process that is fair and perceived as such.”

University of Iowa Associate Professor of political science Cary Covington said one of the biggest dangers during the primary season are the attacks on candidates coming from other Republicans.

Covington said when a party loses an election, it causes the members to look back at what went wrong. The problem for the Republican Party was that it allowed too many debates with too many participants, he said, which ended up hurting the nominee.

“They don’t want to create a destructive process that the candidate that emerges is put at a disadvantage in comparison with the Democratic candidate,” Covington said.

William Keetle, the head of Johnson County Republicans, said the 2012 primary election cycle had too many debates with minor candidates who had no chance of nomination. The debate also had biased moderators.

“We had altogether too many debates last time that were controlled by media that were hostile to the Republican Party,” Keetle said. “The questions that were coming from the network media were designed to hurt the Republican candidates rather than to help us.”

With that, he said debates should give viable candidates plenty of time to speak, free from interruptions. He said the problem lies in deciphering which candidates have a real chance for the nomination.

“The parties have a responsibility to try to limit debate participation to people who are eligible for president,” Keetle said.


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