BOSTON —The Republican National Committee
forcefully rebuked CNN and NBC here Friday, passing unanimously a resolution to not participate with the networks in 2016 primary debates if the networks go forward with their planned projects on Hillary Clinton.
The move served as a high-profile, attention-grabbing way for the party to accomplish one of its goals for the 2016 cycle — take back control of its primary debates.
In the 2012 debate cycle, Republican candidates memorably chastised each other in the 2012 debate cycle. It led to awkward and damaging moments for eventual nominee Mitt Romney — such as when he bet candidate Rick Perry $US10,000 on stage and said he preferred “self-deportation” as a method of solving the nation’s immigration problems.
Talking to reporters on Thursday in Boston, RNC Chair Reince Priebus said referred to the primary debate calendar — which contained 20 debates — as a “disaster” and “travelling circus.”
“We’re going to have to control the debate calendar, the frequency, the moderators, and the length of the primary,” Priebus said.
It’s part of the RNC’s desire to shorten the overall primary process, including possibly moving up the Republican National Convention to June — something neither party has done since the 1940s.
There’s no exact number at this point, but GOP officials said the amount of debates would ideally be around half of the record 20 it held last year. That’s also what the five-member task force appointed by Priebus to perform a so-called “autopsy report” on the party recommended back in March.
Focusing on Clinton gave the RNC a way to motivate the party’s grassroots activists without making the move seem like too much of a power grab by party officials. Some of NBC and CNN’s own reporters even bristled at the idea of the Clinton projects airing on their networks as she would plausibly in the thick of campaigning ahead of 2016.
Speculation ensued this week that the party would consider conservative moderators like radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin, as well as Fox News’ Sean Hannity — something that all three reacted to with positive coverage.
And when Priebus gave a fiery speech to a crowd of delegates, officials, and state party chairs here on Friday morning before the eventual vote, he received multiple standing ovations.
“The networks can talk all they want about the lines between their divisions. But the same week that people at NBC promised that NBC News and NBC Entertainment are separate–the very same week — we heard they’re giving a prime time MSNBC slot to Alec Baldwin,” Priebus said.
“We don’t have time for the media’s games. And, really, that goes beyond the debates.”
This was the first time that the RNC was able to change its rules in a non-election year, which allowed it to alter the debate process before debates had already been scheduled — something that Priebus couldn’t do coming into the chairmanship in 2011. At its convention in Tampa last August, the party passed a rule that allows it to enact changes at any meeting.
This week, the RNC set up a subcommittee to handle the debate process, among other things. The first step came with the resolution barring participation in debates with CNN and NBC over Clinton.
“That was really a first step toward us getting to the point where we’re saying, we actually do have a say in where our debates are, who moderates our debates, when they are, and how many they are,” RNC Chief of Staff Mike Shields told Business Insider.
“Because we have a say in who nominates our candidate.”
It’s unclear what will happen next with CNN and NBC. In Boston, officials stuck to the line that the party won’t participate in debates because of the Clinton issue. And they scored an immediate victory just hours later, when Fox Television Studios announced it had canceled plans to produce NBC’s miniseries about Clinton.
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