Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Reince wants to rein in debates

RNC Chair, Reince Priebus, tells the National Review that he wants fewer debates in the 2016 primary.

One of the major topics that people discuss is the debate issue — controlling the debates and tying the nomination process to the debate calendar is something we’re going to look at. Now, we didn’t have that opportunity two years ago; there is no mechanism to tie the nomination process to the debate calendar. But we have that opportunity now. We can do that with a three-quarters vote of the Republican National Committee. Here’s a hypothetical. The RNC could hypothetically say, “Look, here’s the debate calendar. Here are the moderators. We’re going to have one debate a month starting on this day.”

And adherence to the calendar will be a requirement to achieving the nomination to the presidency — either through bonus delegates or penalties of delegates subtracted. There is one major reason that a presidential candidate needs the Republican party: To get on the ballot in November, a presidential candidate must get a majority of delegates at a national convention to vote for him or her. If the presidential candidate can’t make that happen, he or she is not on the ballot. So that is one idea that we will be looking at.

If you have ten presidential candidates, and seven out of ten or eight out of ten will take whatever two-hour slot that is open to them, then you end up with a debate any time some cable network decides to hold one. You can’t control that situation. Our endeavor is to come up with some idea that helps us control that situation.

There's a general feeling that the sheer volume of primary debates hurt Mitt Romney and the GOP's cause in 2012. Critics point to that moment when the candidates all rejected $1 in tax hikes for $10 in spending cuts. They also note that Romney used some of his toughest language on immigration during primary debates with Rick Perry.

Thus, they conclude that primary debates pushed candidates to positions they'd rue once the general election rolled around.

But there are two problems with that.

First, Romney's choice to go hardcore on immigration didn't have anything to do with whether there were ten or twenty debates. It had everything to do with his strategy. If there were 50% fewer debates, would he really forget or forgo the immigration attack? No, that was his strategy.

Second, you can make the argument that the 20+ debates made Romney sharper -- something he ultimately used to turn the general election race into a race.

In the hunger to conjure up more sophisticated narratives, pundits frequently invoke stuff like "too many debates" when nothing suggests that the volume meaningfully hurt the GOP. The quality is a different matter and that should certainly be revisited.