Watch: RNC Spokesman in Heated Exchange on ‘Top Ten’ Debate Rules

Sunday on CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” RNC communications director Sean Spicer and Jeb Bradley, the Republican leader of New Hampshire state senate, had a heated exchange on the networks rules allowing only the top ten candidates in polling on the main debate stage, and holding a forum in the afternoon for lower ranking candidates.

Partial transcript as follows:

BRADLEY: I understand the need to try to have some discipline in the process. But At the same time, you’re going to exclude what could be viable candidates here in New Hampshire. And I think speaking for a state that has done a really good process of electing presidents over the years it really should be the voters who get to winnowing out the candidates, not the party and not the media. And I think a candidate like former Senator Santorum or Governor Kasich or Carly Fiorina or Governor Pataki or Senator Graham or Governor Jindal, they would be excluded right now if the polls were in effect today. I just don’t think that is appropriate.

SPICER: There were 30 candidates on the New Hampshire ballot, there were 26 on the Iowa ballot. What you’re talking about, senator, is you or other folks want to decide who can be it. You’re asking a level of subjectivity. If it’s not polling, then what is the level? You’re not going to have 30 people on it. You keep describing credible candidates. What is a credible candidate? Seems to me what you and a lot of folks who signed the letter is, you want to determine who the credible candidates are. I give FOX and CNN  credit for saying it’s not just going to be the top ten that get air time but any candidate over 1% will get air time. Looking at history, a lot of candidates, last cycle at this point we would have had two GOP debates under the belt neither of which are Mitt Romney in them. That doesn’t mean you won’t be in the third, fourth or fifth debate. New Hampshire is six months away. There is plenty of time for a candidate to sit around New Hampshire or Iowa — I think New Hampshire voters offer that opportunity to any candidate. You can sit there and have one-on-one discussions with people throughout the state and get your numbers up. If that’s the case, by the time you hit the New Hampshire primary, you’re going to be in great shape.

BRADLEY: I couldn’t disagree more. The party apparatus is trying to pick winners and losers. it’s not for the party hierarchy to do. It’s for voters to do. The early voting states New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina, Florida, do a good job of winnowing out those candidates. Sean, you should leave these decisions to voters.”

SPICER: Senator, I don’t understand that because that doesn’t mean anything. When you say ‘leave it to voters,’ at the end of the day answer me this, last cycle you had 30 candidates on the New Hampshire ballots. Do you expect 30 people to get on the debate stage at any time?

BRADLEY: In New Hampshire people put their names on the ballot with no intention of becoming president… You’re excluding Senator Santorum who got the second most delegates last time, because he hasn’t cracked the top ten yet. Or Governor Kasich, the governor of a very big, industrial state, critical for Republicans to be able to win the presidency, with the Electoral College votes. I mean, why would we be excluding Governor Kasich.

SPICER: This is nuts, the idea anyone has been excluded is crazy. How do you decide that we’re excluding them from the debate? Some haven’t even announced. Secondly, when you look at what FOX and CNN  did, they took what was a historic number of people on stage and said we’ll create a second segment so any candidate receiving over 1% can get on the stage. Santorum or maybe else with 1% will get air time. That’s historic in the amount of air time we’re offering any candidate that gets above that. I don’t see how you can argue that that’s not a great opportunity for any candidate.

BRADLEY: I  think if it were structured so some of the top-tier candidates shared a debate stage with some of the other candidates that are at that 1% level, then i would agree with that. but basically you’re creating two strata of candidates, the ones that have been picked by the media based on polls and ones that haven’t done quite as well as the polls. It’s going to be tenths of percents of difference between the 10th and 11th and 12th.That is a problem.

SPICER: I  think what you want is to have the most inclusive process possible by which everybody has an opportunity to get on the stage and make their case to the American people and to early-state voters.

BRADLEY: Unfortunately, Sean, you’re creating a perception that there is a top tier and a second tier, and there is almost no argument about that. And when you do that, voters react to that, because other people in the media and you at the RNC, are making that choice. Why don’t you structure the two debates, in that everybody in the 1% gets on the stage. That’s all we’re asking.

SPICER: No matter how you slice it, there is no perfect answer. In 1992 the gentleman leading with 22 percent was Mario Cuomo. He never became a candidate. Let’s actually let the system play out a little.

Follow Pam Key on Twitter @pamkeyNEN