Tuesday, November 22, 2011

RNC: No Help for Gary Johnson

It probably wasn't unexpected, but former Gov. Gary Johnson's recent appeal to the Republican National Committee for help in getting included in televised GOP debates (in his words, to  "exert some leadership and reclaim the nominating process from the national news media who are today pre-ordaining the viability and success of candidates.") didn't get very far.

The Johnson campaign, in an email today, published the reply from the RNC. In it, chief counsel John R. Phillippe, Jr. points out that there are 21 Republicans who have filed in the New Hampshire primary.

"We simply have to have some minimum criteria in order for candidates to participate in these debates. Otherwise, the debates would be utter chaos and unhelpful to Republican voters as we select our nominee," Phillippe wrote.

He said the threshold for getting into RNC-sanctioned debates are $1 million in third-quarter fundraising or having an average of 3 percent in polls (as averaged by the Real Clear Politics site.)

Johnson's campaign manager, Ron Nielson, responded: “It is not surprising to us that the RNC feels it is not in a position to become involved in the presidential debate selection process in demanding that fairness be observed. Frankly, that is our concern. There is something wrong when CNN or CBS or the Washington Post can decide to exclude a successful two-term Republican governor from the field, and the RNC is powerless to do anything about it. Our only demand is fairness, and fairness isn’t happening.

“There is also something fundamentally wrong when one of the criterion for participation in the process -- embraced by the national party -- is a fundraising threshold. Since when does the size of one’s contributor list have anything to do with qualifications to lead the nation, and how is a candidate to be expected to raise millions of dollars when he is denied the opportunity to even appear on the debate stage?"

The old chicken and egg deal.

Here's the RNC letter, copied from Johnson's email:

Dear Governor Johnson:
Thank you for your letter to Chairman Priebus of October 20, 2011. As you know the Republican National Committee does not decide which candidates are invited to participate in every one of the presidential debates. Those decisions generally are made by the debate sponsors.

The RNC has, however, become involved in a limited fashion through the sanctioning of certain debates. Acting through the Committee on Presidential Debates, the RNC has set objective criteria to guide our decision as to which debates to sanction. Such criteria are necessary given how many individuals have declared candidacies for president. For example, 21 Republican candidates have filed in New Hampshire.

We simply have to have some minimum criteria in order for candidates to participate in these debates. Otherwise, the debates would be utter chaos and unhelpful to Republican voters as we select our nominee. The criteria chosen were aimed primarily at ensuring that only candidates exhibiting minimum indicia of viability would be allowed to participate. A candidate can establish that he or she has met this threshold by hitting certain fundraising targets or achieving a minimum level of support in public polling. The latter would allow candidates whose campaigns are more grassroots-oriented to still demonstrate viability even if they had not raised substantial money.

The third quarter threshold for fundraising was one million dollars, and the polling threshold, based on the RealClearPolitics average, was three percent. Eight candidates met at least one of these criteria. We will strongly encourage the debate sponsors to allow those candidates that meet that requirement to be included. With respect to non-RNC-sanctioned debates, you have to meet the criteria of the debate sponsors.

I understand the problem you and others have had with respect to being excluded from certain public polls. The RNC will work with various pollsters to encourage them to include as many candidates as possible in the polling.

We do not take your concerns lightly, and we appreciate your contacting us to raise the issues. Please let me know if you have any questions.

John R. Phillippe, Jr. Chief Counsel