RNC Report Calls for Fewer Presidential Debates, Mostly Ignores Moderator Unfairness

In a new report released today, the Republican National Committee owned up to a number of mistakes made during the 2012 election cycle. While the central party admitted there were too many presidential debates, it only barely touched on the role that unfair media moderators played in both the nominating process and in the general election.

Despite its reluctance to criticize media impartiality, the RNC report did open the door to the creation of a new organization that would be assigned to create and host the debates apart from the media.

“We are intrigued with the suggestion some have made for an organization to be formed that can host robust, vigorous, tough, and professional debates,” the document says. Such an organization would have to receive cooperation with the media in order to have such debates actually be viewable by the public, the report stated.

“[I]t will remain important to work closely with the media so they agree to broadcast them. After all, there is no point in putting on a debate that almost no one watches. It makes no sense to take back the debates so we can keep them to ourselves.”

Toward the end of its section dealing with presidential debates, the report does very obliquely touch on the topic of moderator fairness arguing that a person given that job should be someone who has “an outstanding reputation for independence, diligence, and toughness.”

While the report is not considered binding on party officials, the fact that RNC chairman Reince Priebus commissioned it and it was written by Republican luminaries Ari Fleischer, Henry Barbour (nephew of former RNC chief Haley Barbour), Sally Bradshaw, Zori Fonalledas, and Glenn McCall suggests it will carry a significant amount of weight in future decisions.

The bulk of the report’s section which deals with primary debates focused more on the sheer number of the candidate face-offs.

The past two cycles, 2008 and 2012, featured 21 and 20 debates compared to 1980 and 1988 which featured only 6 and 7 respectively. The report’s authors recommend hosting only about 10 debates, calling the recent number of candidate face-offs “ridiculous,” particularly considering that so many of them have happened extremely early in the nominating process.

While this particular report did not focus too heavily on moderator selection, the topic is surely on the minds of high-ranking Republicans given that the GOP half of the presidential debate commission admitted earlier this year that choosing CNN host Candy Crowley was a “mistake.”

You can download a copy of the full report here.

Matthew Sheffield's picture