WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican National Committee wants to take more control over how the party picks a White House nominee.
The RNC was to meet Wednesday in Memphis, Tennessee, to choose members who will effectively set the calendar for 2016's long list of potential presidential contenders. If the party's chairman, Reince Priebus gets his way, the GOP will pick its nominee more quickly than during past contests and have fewer debates in which candidates could criticize each other.
The RNC also was expected to put penalties in place for candidates who don't follow the committee's plans. RNC officials described the agenda ahead of the three-day meeting. The officials insisted on anonymity because the entire 168-member central party had not yet been briefed on the proposal.
The move is designed to shorten the volatile nomination period and lengthen the time the party's choice has to make a case against the Democrats. During the 2012 campaign, a proliferation of debates led to fatigue among campaigns and frustration among candidates. In all, 20 debates took place, but not all candidates participated in each.
For instance, various members of the field met for media-sponsored debates 13 times before Iowa had its leadoff caucuses in January 2012. They met on back-to-back days before New Hampshire cast its ballots a week later.
In 2016, the goal would be for six to 10 debates before February or March 2016. RNC officials also have been interested in having greater control over the format and moderators of the debates. A frequent complaint inside the RNC headquarters is that the 2012 primary moderators were more interested in talking about differences among candidates than helping voters rally behind a favored candidate.
If the RNC gets its way, moderators would agree to keep debates focused on topics Priebus prefers and avoid intraparty squabbling. A senior RNC official said the committee has spoken with every network about the proposal. This official, like others, insisted on anonymity without the authorization to speak by name.
The networks, aware of the potentially large audiences, have been open to the proposals, RNC officials said. Candidates who participate in rogue debates would face penalties, which the RNC panel would determine. Those penalties have not been yet been finalized, officials said, but party officials were considering sanctions they believed would be severe enough to dissuade possible violators.
For instance, a candidate who campaigned in a state that ignored the RNC's preferred calendar might win the state but be stripped of some or all of the convention delegates he or she won in that state. In a nominating race determined by who wins the most delegates, such a penalty could be problematic — and, perhaps, a deterrent for would-be scofflaws.
Follow Philip Elliott on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/philip_elliott