GOP Debate

The Sunday evening meeting comes after an eruption of complaints by the candidates about the debates.

By Alex Isenstadt
10/29/15 – 09:07 PM EDT
Updated 10/29/15 – 09:50 PM EDT

Republican presidential campaigns are planning to gather in Washington, D.C., on Sunday evening to plot how to alter their party’s messy debate process — and how to remove power from the hands of the Republican National Committee.

Not invited to the meeting: Anyone from the RNC, which many candidates have openly criticized in the hours since Wednesday’s CNBC debate in Boulder, Colorado — a chaotic, disorganized affair that was widely panned by political observers.

On Thursday, many of the campaigns told POLITICO that the RNC, which has taken a greater role in the 2016 debate process than in previous election cycles, had failed to take their concerns into account. It was time, top aides to at least half a dozen of the candidates agreed, to begin discussing among themselves how the next debates should be structured and not leave it up to the RNC and television networks.

The gathering is being organized by advisers to the campaigns of Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Bobby Jindal and Lindsey Graham, according to multiple sources involved in the planning. Others who are expected to attend, organizers say, are representatives for Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Rick Santorum. The planners are also reaching out to other Republican candidates.

Spokespersons for the RNC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“I think the campaigns have a number of concerns and they have a right to talk about that amongst themselves,” said Christian Ferry, Graham’s campaign manager. The objective, Ferry said, was to “find out what works best for us as a group.”

Figuring that out could be contentious as each campaign has a number of different complaints about the process. Some — such as Bush and Paul — have griped about unequal speaking time. Others have complained bitterly about how polling is used to determine who qualifies for the prime-time and undercard debates. Some have insisted on giving opening and closing statements, despite the networks’ desire to have the candidates spend as much time as possible clashing with each other on stage.

Jindal, who polls better in Iowa than he does nationally, has argued that criteria for determining who qualifies for debates should be based on early state polling, not just national surveys.

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