Members of the Republican National Committee will start debating new rules — and potential penalties – they hope will give the party more control over the 2016 GOP primary debates during its annual spring meeting in Memphis this week.
RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said the committee will begin building the infrastructure of a standing committee on debates while also discussing the issue of penalties. The committee, meeting at the Peabody Hotel, could plausibly penalize candidates who participate in non-sanctioned debates.
“All this springs from a fundamental belief that hey, the Republican nominee ought to be chosen by the Republican Party,” RNC Chief of Staff Mike Shields told reporters before the meeting started this week. “And we actually ought to say how in how that nominating process goes and how the debates go.”
“What shape that takes is still being worked out,” he added.
This all stems from the RNC’s autopsy report after the 2012 election. The 100-page report said the party can better serve its candidates by stepping in to regulate these televised showdowns in 2016. Some Republicans complained of too many debates with moderators asking unfair questions that ultimately weakened the eventual nominee.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus told The Daily Caller last year when the report was released that the party not only wants to reduce the number of debates, but also explore the possibility of choosing who actually asks the questions during the debates.
“I think the party should have more control over who moderates, and we should have more control over the partners,” Priebus told TheDC. “And if we can come up with a mechanism to take more control over the debate processes, that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
Speaking with reporters Monday, Shields said he doesn’t know specifically what the committee will recommend in terms of choosing debate moderators.
“I don’t know the answer to that right now,” he said, “but I certainly believe that when you’re taking control of your own debates, what that means is you are eliminating people who are trying to depose your candidates who clearly are from the other party and have no interest in helping your primary voters vote on the things they care about but are asking questions that help the other side.”
The theme of the RNC’s annual spring meeting in Memphis, taking place Wednesday through Friday, is its rebranded Victory 365 Program. Committee staff plan to highlight the RNC’s year-round field, data and digital effort.
“I think it’s a fundamental strategic shift,” Chief Digital Officer Chuck DeFeo said. “Mike [Shields] started talking about how committees historically operated: You raise money in odd-numbered years. And you spend it in the last six months of even-numbered years. There’s been a fundamental strategic shift in how the RNC operates.”
Shields described the transformation of the RNC since last year, and how party committees have been changing in recent years with the proliferation of super PACs spending loads of money on TV ads.
“When we came into the RNC at the start of the cycle, we sort of asked ourselves some existential questions about what is the right role for the RNC,” he said. “With a lot of people running TV ads in the current environment, what is it that we do best and what is it that we can only do? And what we settled on was ground game and data are the two things that we have to dominate. And that provides the platform for everybody else to succeed, provides the platform for the other campaigns, other campaign committees, and all are other friends to do the things that they need to.”
Shields said the RNC has 193 field staff nationwide, with plans to hire more. He also said the RNC’s OneData Program is the most comprehensive Republican data file in history, with information on all 190 million active voters in the United States. This data helps Republicans target voters, and predict behavior at the ballot box.
“It is a year-round full-time permanent victory operation,” he said. “That it is staff on the ground building relationships because in the end, politics is about relationships. And so it is a full-time relationship building operation that includes our Demographic outreach programs as well.”
“Let’s be honest,” Shields added. “This is community organizing.”