BOSTON — The Republican National Committee on Friday moved closer to exercising some control over the GOP's unwieldy presidential debate process, passing a resolution that would preclude certain television networks and their journalists from participating in the events.
The resolution, pushed by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, was widely portrayed as an effort to pressure CNN and NBC to drop their plans to air programs about the life and career of Hillary Rodham Clinton ahead of the 2016 presidential election. The former first lady, New York senator and secretary of state would be a presumptive front-runner if she seeks the Democratic nomination.
But Priebus' threats to exclude the networks from the GOP debates are also part of Republicans' plans to exert greater control over the debates and prevent a repeat of the chaotic and damaging debate process in 2012. Priebus has called the 20 presidential primary debates held last year on multiple networks — one of which was co-sponsored by the Washington Examiner — a "circus" that elevated weak candidates, damaged stronger ones and tarnished the party's image.
"We're done putting up with this nonsense," Priebus said before the resolution was adopted by acclamation.
Priebus got a standing ovation Friday from Republicans gathered in the liberal bastion of Boston for the party's annual summer meeting when he declared that CNN and NBC would not be allowed to participate in the GOP debates unless they cancel plans to air a mini-series and an unrelated documentary about Clinton.
Some have questioned whether Priebus would even be able to control an expansive primary field of candidates who could accept any network's invitations to debate, but the party chair remains adamant, saying he intends to announce officially sanctioned GOP debates that would influence decisions by both the media outlets that air them and the individuals who moderate them
Priebus has charged that many of the 2012 debates were run by liberal-leaning networks and journalists whose goal was not informing GOP primary voters and facilitating legitimate policy discussions, but sensationalizing the events to maximize ratings — and in some cases to embarrass Republican candidates in front of rank-and-file voters.
"That's why we said to the media, with a united voice, that a network that spends millions to spotlight Hillary Clinton is a network with an obvious bias. And that's a network that won't be hosting a single Republican primary debate," Priebus said. "And by the way, this is the right thing to do for voters. They're not going to get a real debate of substance if it's run by a network who wants to help out Hillary Clinton."
Following is the text of the resolution:
WHEREAS, former Secretary Hillary Clinton is likely to run for President in 2016, and CNN and NBC have both announced programming that amounts to little more than extended commercials promoting former Secretary Clinton; and
WHEREAS, these programming decisions are an attempt to show political favoritism and put a thumb on the scales for the next presidential election; and
WHEREAS, airing this programming will jeopardize will the credibility of CNN and NBC as supposedly unbiased news networks and undermine the perceived objectivity of the coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign by these networks; and
WHEREAS, Robert Greenblatt, Chairman of NBC Entertainment, contributed the maximum amount to Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign committee, contributed $25,000 to Obama's 2012 Victory Fund, and this year contributed $10,000 to the Democratic National Committee; therefore be it -
RESOLVED, that the Republican National Committee calls on CNN and NBC to cancel the airing of these political ads masked as unbiased entertainment; and, be it further
RESOLVED, that if CNN and NBC continue to move forward with this and other such programming, the Republican National Committee will neither partner with these networks in the 2016 presidential primary debates nor sanction any primary debates they sponsor, and, be it finally
RESOLVED, that the Republican National Committee shall endeavor to bring more order to the primary debates and ensure a reasonable number of debates, appropriate moderators and debate partners are chosen, and that other issues pertaining to the general nature of such debates are addressed.