GOP candidates propose changes to debate format ahead of meeting

Several GOP presidential candidates called for changes to the primary debate format, offering proposals on Sunday morning talk shows ahead of an evening meeting with the Republican National Committee over the debate process.

In the aftermath of last week’s CNBC debate, GOP candidates have ramped up complaints about the way primary debates are handled. They criticized the CNBC debate as biased and poorly run and accused the moderators of asking “gotcha” questions.

On Sunday, candidates called for several format changes. Ohio Gov. John Kasich said candidates don’t have enough time to explain their positions during debates. He said he preferred a format in which candidates can answer “a lot of questions over a period of time where I could actually explain myself, instead of having to go so quickly to take on complex issues in short periods of time.”

“I know that Harry Truman couldn’t get elected president explaining the United States’ health-care plan in 30 seconds,” Kasich said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has said that he wants only moderators who have voted in Republican primaries to host future GOP debates. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson wants the debates off television and broadcast only on the Internet, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Carson added in an interview on ABC’s “This Week” that he wants a more “professional type of debate,” with longer opening and closing statements — lasting at least one minute — and more enforcement of time limits on candidates’ answers.

The RNC suspended its partnership with NBC for a presidential debate in February, criticizing CNBC moderators for conducting the debate in “bad faith.”

Presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina called the RNC’s decision appropriate and said CNBC abused the debate process. Her campaign staff will not attend the RNC meeting on Sunday because of logistical reasons, she said.

“This is a debate series for Republican primary voters. And when you don’t have a single conservative moderator, when the moderation earns boos from the audience — I mean I’ve never seen that before where an audience booed the moderation,” Fiorina said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has been relegated to the “undercard” debate among lower-polling candidates, said continuing with the current process will hurt the GOP’s chances in 2016.

“This debate structure is not leading to the best candidate coming out of the debates. I would like [a] smaller group, all of us be heard equally, ask better questions,” Graham said on “Fox News Sunday.” “If we’ll do that, we’ll get the best nominee to win an election we can’t afford to lose.”

Jim Gilmore, whose polling numbers have not yet qualified him for undercard debates, also wants the debate format to change. Gilmore’s main proposal: include him in the debates.

“I think they ought to be inclusive. I am a legitimate candidate,” Gilmore said on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday.

Michelle Ye Hee Lee