If there’s one thing all 15 (!) Republican presidential candidates can agree on it’s that pretending televised debates are anything more than a sham—and that network TV journalists are actually journalists—is probably, at this point, a whole lot more trouble than it’s worth.
According to the New York Times, resentment against the way that the debates operate has been simmering for a while, only to boil over after CNBC’s last week. “There’s no question that last week’s debate was a disaster,” the Republican National Committee’s communications director, Sean Spicer, said. “Our candidates deserve the best format and the best stage to articulate their vision.”
On Friday, the Times reports, the RNC suspended a debate scheduled for February to be hosted by NBC News and Telemundo, and on Sunday the committee promoted its chief operating officer and former chief counsel, Sean Cairncross, to negotiate terms of the debates with the TV networks going forward.
“I think Sean is an experienced election attorney with significant political connections,” Spicer said. “He will bring a lot to the effort that ensures we achieve the best possible format for the candidates seeking our nomination.”
Also on Sunday, though, representatives for most of the Republican candidates met at a hotel in Alexandria, Virginia, to try to come to a consensus about what they want from the networks. (It’s really too bad Scott Walker already dropped out. He might have learned a thing or two about the power of collective bargaining!)
Anyway, the meeting has been leaky as hell, with political reporters tweeting updates on what each campaign wants from the debates all night. Broadly, there seem to be two major axes of conflict: the GOP candidates against the “media” and the GOP candidates still jockeying for position around each other.
What I keep hearing from all sides here: tonight, at its core, is about whether the campaigns will take control of network negotiations— Robert Costa (@costareports) November 2, 2015
Right now, as we speak, the campaigns are discussing *possibly* asking the RNC to *only* do logistics for debates- tickets, etc.— Robert Costa (@costareports) November 1, 2015
The minor candidates, naturally, are tired of getting shunted to their own debate that nobody watches. Campaign representatives for Lindsey Graham, Rick Santorum, and Bobby Jindal proposed two debates of seven randomly chosen candidates, the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel reported.
Trump CM at meeting, per source: "Why do I want to let someone who's polling at 0.1 percent on that stage so he can take shots at Trump?"— daveweigel (@daveweigel) November 2, 2015
Representatives for Jeb Bush want to reinstate the Telemundo debate, the New York Times’ Ashley Parker reported, and Trump’s team threatened to boycott. However, everyone agreed with the Bush camp’s concern, the Post’s Robert Costa tweeted, that the candidates should get approval of TV graphics during the debate.
Reason Jeb camp is upset about graphics is because of what CNBC displayed for him (no mention of being Governor). pic.twitter.com/JIw2DetsZX— Jimmy (@JimmyPrinceton) November 2, 2015
Also: “Per more sources in room, the group has decided to lay off Fox, put them in sep category as the camps move fwd. Kasich team pushed for this,” Costa tweeted. “In essence, there is fury about press but camps here are deciding to treat Fox differently moving fwd. More scrutiny for other outlets,” he continued. No one has pulled out of the Fox Business News debate next week.
"People are afraid to make Roger mad." Quote of the night, via text, from a source participating in the mtg.— Robert Costa (@costareports) November 2, 2015
Meanwhile, as IB Times’ Brendan James points out, the asking price for a 30-second advertising spot during CNBC’s debate last week was reportedly $250,000. Presumably we will find out soon enough how much the other networks’ editorial sensibilities are worth to them as well! That should be interesting.
Update 10:05 pm: Dave Weigel got a copy of a draft letter to networks that GOP lawyer and “dealmaker” (thought that was Trump?) Ben Ginsberg distributed at Sunday’s meeting. One proposed demand: “Can you pledge that the temperature in the hall be kept below 67 degrees?”
The campaigns all agreed that the letter was not strong enough, Weigel reports.