Politics

In wake of GOP debate 'debacle,' RNC tries to reassert control

Candidates appear at the third GOP debate last week in Boulder, Colo. There were many complaints from the campaigns about the performance of the moderators from CNBC.
Candidates appear at the third GOP debate last week in Boulder, Colo. There were many complaints from the campaigns about the performance of the moderators from CNBC.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Amid a brewing revolt by a number of Republican presidential campaigns over the process of debates, the Republican National Committee named a new point person to oversee debates, an RNC official confirms to NPR.

The RNC's Chief of Staff, Katie Walsh, wrote a letter to 14 campaigns on Sunday, as representatives from the campaigns were gathering outside Washington to plot a way forward on debates.

Walsh said Sean Cairncross, the current chief operating officer of the RNC, will work with campaigns and TV networks on debate format. The contents of the letter, first reported by Politico, were confirmed to NPR.

Walsh told the campaigns, "I know many of you have expressed some concern regarding how some of the details in the debate process have been handled to this point. While we believe most of the debate details have been handled well, I want you to know that at the RNC we have heard your concerns and take them very seriously."

During the last GOP debate, hosted by CNBC, candidates complained about the questioning by the moderators from the debate stage. Campaign officials and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus heavily criticized the moderators in the spin room immediately following the debate.

The campaigns did not invite the RNC to participate in their meeting on Sunday evening, but they did invite Ben Ginsberg, an experienced lawyer and adviser to Republican candidates. Ginsburg negotiated debate terms for the campaign of GOP nominee Mitt Romney in 2012. His involvement has caused complaints in conservative media, due to his long history with establishment Republicans.

By turning to Cairncross, the RNC increases the legal and negotiating experience it brings to the debate process. The move is seen as a shakeup of sorts, as the debates were previously under the purview of Sean Spicer, the RNC's highly visible communications director and chief strategist.

"Wednesday night was a debacle," Spicer told Politico and NPR. "The RNC's No. 1 priority is to provide the best debate format for our candidates. Adding Sean in this role is how we can achieve that outcome. The candidates wanted to have another person in the room working on format and logistics. Our goal is to work with the networks to get the best outcome on behalf of our candidates. He's an experienced election attorney who has relationships with a lot of these players."

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