RNC Defends Debates

"The debates themselves have become a source of debate."

“In the weeks since Fox News and CNN released the criteria for the first debates airing on their networks,” begins a Wall Street Journal op-ed penned by Republican National Committee communications director Sean Spicer, “the debates themselves have become a source of debate.”

Oh yes, yes they have, and a portion of that debate has been criticism implicating the RNC for allowing Fox and CNN to continue with their candidate cutoff plans.

An earlier op-ed in the WSJ had Bobby Jindal‘s chief strategist Curt Anderson arguing the debate stage should hold all 16 candidates at once, but that the RNC, “in league with Fox News and CNN,” was preventing that from happening.

In an appearance on Morning Joe last week, Lindsey Graham called out the RNC for their hands-off approach to the debate structure set up by Fox and CNN saying, “the RNC, they’re not helpless here, it is their party. CNN and Fox have come up with the criteria to get in the debate that I think is silly.”

According to Spicer, the RNC is, in fact, helpless.

It is important to acknowledge that the networks and the networks alone are responsible for determining such criteria. Federal election law states that only two types of entities may host a debate: a 501(c)(3) organization or a media outlet. The Republican National Committee is neither. It is therefore up to the staging organization to set the criteria and the format. Those who call on the RNC to change the criteria misunderstand the law.

Far from leaving it at a ‘nothing we can do’ problem, Spicer spent a good portion of the op-ed defending the RNC’s overall 2016 debate plan and schedule and the way in which the networks have handled dealing with the “abundance of riches” that is 16 Republican candidates vying for the nom.

As for the decision by the networks to rely on polls, also a source of criticism for the unreliability and unfairness of early-stage polling, Spicer effectively suggested everyone chill. “Those who dispute the use of national polls as the basis of deciding who’s onstage for the first two debates should keep in mind that networks may use different criteria for subsequent ones,” he wrote. “But also keep in mind we are a national party trying to win a national election.”