RNC Cannot Afford to be Held Hostage by Donald Trump

We don’t often write about national politics here, but this particular issue is one of grave importance to all Republicans.

The next Republican Presidential Debate is scheduled for October 28th and is being broadcast on CNBC. Two of the candidates, Donald Trump and Ben Carson, had their campaigns demand that they debate be no longer than two hours from start to finish. If the debate was not altered to fit their criteria, they were going to pull out of the debate.

For reasons that are beyond comprehension, CNBC and the RNC agreed to their demands.

This isn’t my first rodeo, and I’ve been involved before with the mechanics of negotiating a debate. There are times when candidates choose not to debate. There have been times where candidates have not been invited to a debate. But never have I seen the Republican Party acquiesce to the demands of a particular candidate or two to change or alter the debate structure to suit the needs of two candidates who were threatening to boycott it.

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To say nothing of the fact that the two Republicans threatening to boycott the debates are only recently registered Republicans.

I understand why Trump and Carson don’t want to debate as long as they have in previous debates. Neither Donald Trump nor Ben Carson have the understanding, knowledge, or policy chops to thrive in a three-hour debate environment. Neither are qualified to be President, but they are riding the wave of the polls, want to stay near the top, and thinks that a threatened boycott will help them stay there.

My issue is not with them, but with those in Republican leadership who let this happen. The RNC has been very good this year about trying to control the debate environment in this election cycle. After the never-ending series of debates during the 2012 primary, the RNC was able to work to create a manageable number of debates, and was even able to create debates where almost all candidates have had the opportunity to participate. Mark Everson may not agree with that, but Reince Priebus and the RNC did a good job with that.

But that’s changed now. A lot of the good will that Priebus and the RNC put up is now tainted by his acquiescing to the demands of these candidates, Donald Trump in particular. Trump’s threats to bolt to run as an independent have clearly affected the decisionmaking at the RNC, and they figure that keeping Trump happy and in the GOP tent is better than having him contemplating an independent run.

But that thinking is shortsighted. Trump has already been dropping hints as to what will get him to exit the Republican primary race.  Because you see, Donald Trump has a big fear of being a loser. It’s why he talks about a primary exit strategy. It’s why an independent run is likely a bluff. And it’s why he wanted to boycott the debate unless his terms were met.

But the RNC’s job is not to protect Donald Trump from his feelings of inadequacy. It’s to protect the Republican Party interests and to ensure that the debate is as informative as possible for Republican Primary voters. A two hour debate that will have roughly 90 minutes of debate time split among 10 or 11 candidates is not helpful in that regard.

The debate rules themselves aren’t nearly as disconcerting as the precedent. The rules change sets the precedent that candidates can dictate the terms of every debate to the RNC. But the most dangerous precedent is not that one. It’s the precedent that a wannabe strongman like Donald Trump can dictate to the RNC exactly how they are going to run their operations. And while Donald Trump is not a lifelong Republican, or even remotely conservative, the RNC went along with his demands anyway.

That’s a dangerous precedent to have. Because the Republican Party cannot afford to be held hostage by Donald Trump.

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