On Sunday night, the managers for 13 Republican presidential campaigns huddled in a Hilton hotel in Alexandria, Virginia, to hammer out acceptable parameters for the debates set to take place over the next several months. Technically this was the Republican National Committee's job, but it was a job the RNC, in the candidates' opinions, had failed to adequately perform.
With the help of Republican lawyer Ben Ginsberg, representatives for the campaign drafted a form letter with a set of demands and a list of questions that would help inform whether they would agree to participate in future debates. (According to the Washington Post, which obtained the leaked draft, none of the presidential campaigns have signed off on the letter yet.)
Some of the requests are oddly specific, like when the campaigns ask the networks to promise they won't "show an empty podium after a break (describe how far away the bathrooms are)."
So, which candidates are responsible for which demands? It's safe to say none come from Carly Fiorina or Chris Christie — theirs were the only two campaigns who did not send envoys to the meeting. But the rest of them? That's anyone's (informed) guess. Here are ours:
"A minimum 30-second opening statement and a minimum 30-second closing statement for each participant"
We know from the infamous pre-CNBC debate conference call that Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Rand Paul were ready to boycott a debate that did not accommodate both opening and closing statements. Paul's campaign manager was quoted saying, "If we don't have opening and closing statements, CNBC can go f--- themselves." (CNBC ultimately allowed closing statements, but not opening ones during the October 28 debate.)
"Candidate pre-approval of any graphics and bios you plan to include in your broadcast about each candidate"
According to the Post, this demand came straight from Jeb Bush's campaign manager, Danny Diaz. (Diaz's other demand — that the group reinstate the suspended Telemundo debate — was reportedly spiked by Trump's campaign manager.)
"There be no 'lightning rounds'"
This demand recalls the cringeworthy moment in the second GOP debate when candidates were asked which woman they would put on the $10 bill. Several couldn't name a single female American historical figure they thought deserved the honor: Mike Huckabee named his wife, Ben Carson nominated his mother and Jeb Bush said he'd want to see the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on American currency.
"Detail which polls [will determine inclusion in the debates] and why each poll's methodology and sample size is acceptable to you"
The candidate who would be most concerned with this question is Rand Paul, who very nearly didn't make the cut for the third Republican debate when his poll numbers fell dangerously close to the threshold for inclusion.
"Will you commit to provide equal time/an equal number of questions of equal quality (substance as opposed to 'gotcha' or frivolous) to each candidate?"
Rand Paul's camp would have the most motivation to lobby for equal time, too — their candidate has ranked at or near the bottom, in terms of speaking time, in all three debates.
"Can you pledge that the temperature in the hall be kept below 67 degrees?"
This could be from any of the candidates who participated in the second debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. "It is a magnificent setting but it clearly didn't have adequate AC for the size crowd with the addition of lights, etc.," Steve Duprey, head of the RNC's debate committee, said in an email after the event. "The candidates were visibly perspiring and we need to make sure that doesn't happen again."
The famously dehydrated Marco Rubio may have been most affected. As Trump said in a radio interview following the debate: "Marco Rubio, I've never seen anybody sweat like that. And you know a lot of these guys are serious sweaters, frankly, but it was extremely hot in the room and extremely uncomfortable."
Here's the full letter from the RNC, demands and requests in bold, obtained by the Washington Post:
This letter is on behalf of the 15 Republican Presidential campaigns. We are aware that you are sponsoring a debate on _____ at ______. Below and attached are questions about your debate to which the campaigns would appreciate answers at your earliest convenience, and in any event no later than a month from today.
The answers you provide to these questions are part of a process that each campaign will use to determine whether its candidate will participate in your debate. All the candidates recognize that robust debates are an important part of the primary elections. It is also important that all debates be appropriate platforms for discussing substantive issues and the candidates' visions for the future.
To achieve this going forward, the campaigns ask that you:
- Answer the questions below within 30 days of receipt by communicating directly with the campaigns. We'll provide an email list for that distribution.
- No later than a month before your debate (earlier if possible), schedule a conference with all the campaigns participating jointly so that the campaigns may ask questions about the format for your debate, the moderators and your answers to the questions below. The campaigns may request an additional call(s) to discuss specific issues.
- The campaigns' will use the manner in which your debate(s) are run (and changes you say you will make from your past debates), the quality and fairness of your moderators' questions, their enforcement of the rules and their ability to achieve parity in distribution and quality of questions and time among the candidates to evaluate whether the candidates wish to participate in your future debates.
- In addition, based on their evaluation of previous debates, the campaigns wish to have in all future debates a minimum 30-second opening statement and a minimum 30-second closing statement for each participant; candidate pre-approval of any graphics and bios you plan to include in your broadcast about each candidate, and that there be no 'lightning rounds' because of their frivolousness or 'gotcha' nature, or in some cases both.
The campaigns appreciate your participation to achieve what they feel is a great need for more accountability and transparency in their primary debate process. In addition to addressing the above points, please answer the following:
Where and when will the debate be held?
What are criteria for inclusion? If you choose to base this on polls, please detail which polls and why each poll's methodology and sample size is acceptable to you.
Who is the moderator? Will there be any additional questioners? Are they seated?
What is the estimated audience for the debate? Will it be disseminated on-line? By radio? Will it be disseminated by other means and do you have any additional partners?
What format do you envision – podiums, table, other?
Will there be questions from the audience or social media? How many? How will they be presented to the candidates? Will you acknowledge that you, as the sponsor, take responsibility for all questions asked, even if not asked by your personnel?
What is your proposed length of the debate?
Will there be opening and closing statements. How long will they be?
Will you commit to provide equal time/an equal number of questions of equal quality (substance as opposed to 'gotcha' or frivolous) to each candidate?
How long are the answers and rebuttals? If a candidate is mentioned, will he/she automatically be called on so they can rebut?
Will there be a gong/buzzer/bell when time is up? How will the moderator enforce the time limits?
Will you commit that you will not:
o Ask the candidates to raise their hands to answer a question
o Ask yes/no questions without time to provide a substantive answer
o Have a "lightning round"
o Allow candidate-to-candidate questioning
o Allow props or pledges by the candidates
o Have reaction shots of members of the audience or moderators during debates
o Show an empty podium after a break (describe how far away the bathrooms are)
o Use behind shots of the candidates showing their notes
o Leave microphones on during breaks
o Allow members of the audience to wear political messages (shirts, buttons, signs, etc.). Who enforces?
What is the size of the audience? Who is receiving tickets in addition to the candidates? Who's in charge of distributing those tickets and filling the seats?
What instructions will you provide to the audience about cheering during the debate?
What are the plans for the lead-in to the debate (Pre-shot video? Announcer to moderator? Director to Moderator?) and how long is it?
Are you running promo ads before the debate about your moderator(s)?
What type of microphones (lavs or podium)?
Can you pledge that the temperature in the hall be kept below 67 degrees?
If there is any additional information you would like to provide the candidates and the campaigns, please do so. Thank you for your cooperation. Should you have any questions, the campaigns will be pleased to answer them."