The 2016 GOP presidential campaigns agreed on Sunday evening to cut the Republican National Committee (RNC) out of the debate negotiation process and instead deal directly with networks moderating debates, Breitbart News has learned.
Corey Lewandowski, the campaign manager for frontrunner Donald Trump, confirmed to Breitbart News via phone on Sunday that the “biggest consensus” of five separate points the GOP campaigns agreed on was cutting the RNC out of the negotiations with the networks, as the campaigns would each like to negotiate with the networks directly.
In response to the revelation that the RNC will be cut out of the process, RNC chief spokesman Sean Spicer—the party’s point man on handling debates until now—said the RNC stands ready to help the candidates in any way they can.
“The RNC is fully committed to serving the interests of our campaigns,” Spicer told Breitbart News. “We support the best format to present their vision to lead America forward.”
A campaign manager with another campaign who wished not to be identified confirmed to Breitbart News that the RNC will no longer be handling debate format and that the “campaigns will take the lead” on that. The RNC will still handle basic logistics, though, that campaign manager said.
The second point of agreement was that they want information from the networks on things such as qualification criteria earlier than before, Lewandowski said, and third was they want “greater parity and greater integrity” in questions. A fourth point of agreement, according to Lewandowski, was they want debates to last no longer than two hours—including commercials—and a fifth is they want each candidate to get at least 30 seconds apiece for opening and for closing statements.
“Mr. Trump has won the last three debates, and he is willing to continue to debate his opponents,” Lewandowski told Breitbart News. “However, the moderators of the debates should not be the story. Instead, the candidates’ responses to questions is what the American public should hear.”
The meeting happened at the Hilton in Alexandria, Virginia, in Old Town on King Street just outside Washington, D.C.
Most of the details of what various campaigns wanted was already made public heading into the meeting. “Ben Carson’s campaign manager, Barry Bennett, was hopeful that the group could agree on one two-hour debate with every candidate onstage,” the Washington Post’s Bob Costa and Dave Weigel reported.
They also quoted former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s campaign manager Sarah Huckabee Sanders, laying out a previously public demand from campaigns.
“One of the big goals is allowing for more substance and equal time,” Sanders said. “It does make that difficult if there are multiple candidates but the debate’s capped at two hours.”
But the revelation that the RNC will no longer be a part of the debate process has not yet been reported until now.
During the meeting, too, according to Costa and Weigel, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s campaign manager Danny Diaz pushed unsuccessfully for Telemundo to get reinstated as a moderator—something Trump would boycott.
“Bush campaign manager Danny Diaz recommended that Telemundo be reinstated after being dropped along with NBC,” Costa and Weigel wrote. “But the campaign of businessman Donald Trump, represented by manager Corey Lewandowski, threatened to boycott a debate if the Spanish-language network that Trump has clashed with was granted one.”
Telemundo was supposed to partner with NBC News, but after CNBC’s horrendous moderating job in Boulder, Colorado, last week lost its upcoming debate along with partner network NBC News.
This revelation also means a last-ditch effort by the RNC to keep control of the process has failed. Politico reported right before the meeting that the RNC named a new official to handle debates along with Spicer. Politico’s Mike Allen quoted RNC chief of staff Katie Walsh as having emailed campaign managers for all 14 GOP candidates’ campaign managers half an hour before the meeting to say she has placed RNC Chief Operating Officer (COO) Sean Cairncross in charge of the debates with Spicer.
“I have asked Sean Cairncross, Chief Operating Officer of the RNC and former Chief Counsel to take the central role in the debate process, specifically as it pertains to working with Sean Spicer and negotiating with the networks,” Walsh emailed the campaign managers.
The Sunday evening meeting was initiated by Dr. Ben Carson’s campaign. Carson, who along with Trump sits atop GOP polling, had pushed for all the GOP candidates including those polling extraordinarily low to be granted a place on stage. Most of the other top polling candidates’ campaigns did not agree to that. Campaign staff for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who is polling at or below 1 percent, and for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum pushed for being included on the main stage of debates.
“Representatives from the undercard campaigns of Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and Gov. Bobby Jindal (La.) told reporters that they would focus on what Graham adviser Brett O’Donnell called ‘equal treatment’ for their campaigns — two debates, each with seven randomly selected candidates,” Weigel and Costa wrote.
It was at the urging of Graham’s struggling campaign that highly controversial GOP establishment lawyer Ben Ginsberg was present, emails obtained by Breitbart News ahead of the meeting showed. Ginsberg’s controversial history of working to change RNC rules—he did so in 2012—has drawn the ire of conservatives who believe he’s working on behalf of the establishment to game the process to hurt conservatives.
The New York Times reported after the meeting that Ginsberg “is drafting a letter — without the R.N.C.’s input — that the campaigns plan to send to the networks within 48 hours.”
“Mr. Ginsberg called the committee immediately after the meeting to convey the group’s next steps,” the Times’ Ashley Parker wrote.