- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 11, 2014

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In an unusual display of centralized power, the Republican Party’s national governing body approved a rule that likely would end abruptly the 2016 GOP presidential nomination quest of any candidate who dares to step out of line.

The offense that could cut short a campaign’s life is the candidate’s participating in a primary debate — or perhaps even a forum or any event with a rival — that doesn’t have the RNC’s blessing.

One violation could bar a candidate even from participating in any RNC-approved debate for the rest of the primary campaign season, which would cut him off from the free-media spotlight as millions of Americans learn more about the other candidates in debate after debate. Even a self-financed billionaire would have a very hard time surviving consignment to such a political black hole.

The haziness of the meaning of “debate” was highlighted when a motion from the floor to add “nationally televised” to the word “debate” in the proposed rule went down to defeat, leaving it up to RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and the debate committee to decide whether a moderated public discussion between, hypothetically, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, would be an unsanctioned debate.

The move gives Mr. Priebus and his newly authorized but as yet unformed, 13-member Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates what critics called “breathtaking power” over the nomination process not enjoyed by either party in recent memory.

The panel makeup itself caused controversy as well.


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Five of its 13 members will be appointed by the RNC chairman and the other eight will be elected by the members from each of the four regions, one man and one woman from each region.

“The rule that we passed is exactly what we need to take control of our nominating process,” Oklahoma GOP Chairman Dave Weston said. As for Mr. Priebus‘ appointing five of the 13 members, a move some members thought over centralizing, Mr. Weston said, “this is the only practical and realistic way to go. We need to let our leaders lead.”

Until now, the RNC’s only significant power over the presidential nomination process was setting the date of its quadrennial nominating convention and stripping delegates to that convention from states that hold their primaries earlier than the RNC prescribed. The rush to be first and more-relevant to picking the nominee had led to the 2008 Iowa presidential caucuses being held on Jan. 3 and the New Hampshire primary taking place Jan. 8.

“It was a bad mistake to give, in effect, the chairman of the RNC the power to decide which candidates will be permitted to participate in Republican presidential debates,” Virginia RNC member Morton Blackwell told The Washington Times after the vote Friday.

“It was dangerous and unnecessary to give, in effect, the chairman of the RNC the power to punish a Republican presidential candidate for participating in a discussion which the RNC chairman later decides was actually a debate,” Mr. Blackwell, founder and president of the Leadership Institute that prepares students for careers in politics, government and the news media.

However, Solomon Yue, the co-founder of the RNC’s Conservative Caucus, recalls that in 2012, when he was vice chairman of the presidential debate rules committee, the rules were centralized in a different way. He said the formation of the 2016 panel will be a “more bottom-up process” because some members will be elected — more than will be appointed by the RNC chairman.

“Back then, all our debate committee members were appointed by the RNC chairman,” Mr. Yue said. “This time the rule for the creation of the debates committee allows for eight elected members, a man and a woman from each of four regions — and the RNC chairman to appoint five members.”

Supporters of the new rules said no attempt to carry out Mr. Priebus‘ goal of wresting control of Republican presidential nomination debates away from TV networks that typically name hosts and reporters hostile to Republicans goals and philosophy could attain perfection.

Texas COP Chairman Steve Munisteri said at least in deciding who moderates, where and when, “it’s better to have the debate committee than the media” because, if nothing else, the party committee is subject to more checks and balances.

“But if the RNC debate committee is too much out of bounds, it’s easier to pressure RNC than media to do the right thing,” he said.

Alabama party Chairman Bill Armistead said, “the solution that we arrived at may not be the perfect solution, but it is a heck of a lot better than what we have now.”

Georgia RNC member Linda Herren said she wasn’t looking for perfection but for practical fixes to bad situations.

“Rank-and-file, grass roots Republicans across the nation agree that the last presidential primary cycle had too many debates,” Mrs. Herren said. “The formats and moderators and indeed the candidates themselves were beating our field bloody, while President Obama was sitting back to take on the wounded, the last one standing.”

However, some still said the national party was going further in the direction of top-down control that has yielded disappointments in four of six presidential races. They note that nothing has been done to change a rule, backed by Mitt Romney’s forces in 2012, that made it harder for an under-financed candidate or one not supported by the party establishment and therefore its major donors to even get his or her name into nomination at the convention.

That rule said a candidate had to win a majority of delegates in primaries or caucuses in at least eight states in order for his name to be placed in nomination.

“The rules changes made in the past two RNC meeting have made the nomination process more,” said former Hawaii GOP Chairman Willes K. Lee. “Romney wanted to select our delegates. The RNC wants to control our candidates.”

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