If you don’t like the rules, change them.
That seems to be the message we’re getting from the Republican Party after last Wednesday’s CNBC debate received criticism for both the questions asked and the structure of the debate. During the event Chris Christie went on a diatribe when asked a question about fantasy football and fellow candidate Ted Cruz endeared himself to Republican voters nationwide by claiming the moderators were out to get the candidates as part of a coordinated campaign by the liberal media. Afterwards, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus came under attack for allowing the debate to occur, and Priebus responded by saying that CNBC should “be ashamed” of the way the proceedings were conducted.
The fallout was swift and lethal. A mere two days after the debate, the Republican National Committee announced it was suspending its partnership with NBC and that it would cancel its scheduled debate that the network was set to co-host with Spanish-language network Telemundo on February 26 at the University of Houston. That decision ended up solving the immediate problem of not having to work with any NBC-affiliates. However, the Republicans still had to figure out a way to have an agreeable format for all candidates for the remaining seven scheduled debates between now and March.
Enter Ben Ginsberg.
Ginsberg is a top Republican lawyer and strategist who served as national council for the presidential campaigns of both George W. Bush and Mitt Romney. He was the lead council during the 2000 presidential recount and was portrayed by actor Bob Balaban in the 2008 HBO movie Recount. On Sunday night, Ginsberg met with representatives of 13 Republican candidates and drafted a letter to media sponsors of the upcoming scheduled Republican debates. Ginsberg hoped to get unanimous support on his draft but, unfortunately ,Donald Trump shockingly decided to draft his own letter, most likely on official Trump letterhead. Despite not having The Donald on board, Ginsberg and the candidates came up with a list of demands, including:
-A 30 second opening and closing statement
-Candidates pre-approving all graphics and images to be used by the network
-No “lightning” rounds where candidates will be required to give a short answer
-A commitment to give all candidates an equal number of questions and airtime
-No group questions where candidates respond by raising their hands
-No candidate questions to each other
-No reaction shots of moderators or audience members
-No shots from behind the podiums that might show candidates’ notes
-The temperature in the debate facility to be 67 degrees
It should be noted that none of the campaigns have officially signed off on this draft as yet. However, Republicans are already being mocked for the process. Several media members are wondering how Republican candidates can expect to be seen as presidential when they are seemingly running away from difficult questions. In addition, the Twitterverse has been more giddy than a kid on Christmas with the hashtag #NewGOPDebateQuestions trending over the weekend and #TrumpDemands currently trending as of late Monday evening.
Moving forward, Republicans will have to figure out how to deal with the backlash from their debate debacle. At a time when more and more of their candidates are being called out for having a little bit of a truth-deficiency problem, the American public wants to see Republican candidates have an open and honest discussion about the issues. What they don’t want to see is candidates blow off questions by resorting to talking points or blaming the moderators when they’re asked a challenging question. For Republicans to alter public perception, they will need to prove that their new debate structure is done in a way to ensure fairness for the American people and not just in a way to ensure their candidates’ flaws aren’t being exploited in a debate setting. They will need to prove that these new debate rules ensure a fair and honest dialogue among all candidates. The American want and deserve as much.