RNC's Sean Spicer shrugs off debate criticism

"The candidates should have all the say they want," said Republican National Committee communications leader Sean Spicer.

WASHINGTON: The Republican National Committee’s communications chief contended Tuesday that his organization isn’t bothered by presidential candidates pushing for changes to debates – in fact, he said, it’s encouraged.

"The format is about the candidates. The candidates should have all the say they want in that," said Sean Spicer, chief strategist and communications director at the RNC. Although the Committee manages all logistical elements of the debates, Spicer said it was "pinch hitting" for the candidates largely because of the sheer volume of GOP White House hopefuls.

"Part of our job is to help the candidates if there’s an area of consensus," he said. "If they want to work directly with the [TV] network, that’s their option. To the degree we’re asked to help, we will."

After the last Republican debate, various candidates have moved to take matters into their own hands. Yet Politico reported on Tuesday that some candidates split from that movement and would not sign a letter to the TV networks outlining their requests for future debate.

Spicer responded that their letter was not a list of demands, but rather a "series of questions" for the networks.

At least one change Spicer said the candidates may want to see moving forward is being privy to "more information [about the debates] sooner than later."

Tension between debate moderators and the candidates themselves has been a theme of the 2016 Republican primary process. After the first prime-time GOP debate on Fox News, Donald Trump feuded with debate host Megyn Kelly, and was accused of making misogynistic comments about her in the days after the event.

Last week’s CNBC-hosted debate drew ire from both sides of the aisle, with both Democrats and Republicans saying the event was not well-run. That prompted high-ranking representatives from several Republican campaigns to meet on Sunday, reportedly in an effort to pry influence over debate control away from the RNC. However, the campaigns failed to reach a consensus.

The dispute became a Democratic talking point, with President Barack Obama mocking the candidates during a fundraiser this week for implying they would get tough with other world leaders.

"Then it turns out they can’t handle a bunch of CNBC moderators at the debate," the president reportedly said. "Let me tell you, if you can’t handle those guys, then I don’t think the Chinese and the Russians are going to be too worried about you."

Spicer recalled the op-ed he wrote for The Wall Street Journal this summer that highlighted how the party has worked to overhaul the debates. For one, it has worked to meet candidates’ demands over the number of debates.  

"There were too many debates last cycle. Debates are a massive resource suck from our candidates – they take time and money. Having a predictable schedule was important," he said, adding that the party wanted to bring more states into the fold and "add a conservative element to each."

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