Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer is pushing back against critics who say the upcoming GOP presidential primary debates are excluding too many legitimate candidates.
In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal on Sunday, Spicer said the debate schedule sanctioned by the RNC is the "most inclusive setup in history." Fox News and CNN are hosting the first two debates.
"Some have suggested that the criteria should be changed to include all 'legitimate' candidates on the debate stage," Spicer wrote. "But who decides who's 'legitimate'? By late July, 114 candidates — yes, 114! — had filed paperwork to seek the Republican nomination. Is every governor legitimate? How about every senator or member of the House of Representatives? Former members and governors? Statewide officials? Without using an objective standard like national polling, as Fox News and CNN will, the criteria become much more subjective."
At issue is the method Fox and CNN have said they will use to determine which candidates make it onto their respective primetime debate stages. Both networks have said the stage will be reserved for the candidates who place in the top 10 of an average of national polls. Another forum will be provided by both CNN and Fox to allow airtime for other candidates who did not make the top 10.
Critics, including several of the candidates themselves, have said the reliance on national polls rewards name recognition rather than favorability in early primary voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire. It is likely that real estate tycoon and former reality TV star Donald Trump will be included in the first debate, while former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina will not.
Spicer said the RNC is legally not allowed to manipulate the criteria for entry into the debates. He said the RNC had three goals when devising the debate process: Free up candidates to spend more time on the campaign trail; include an element of conservative media, such as National Review's inclusion in ABC's debate; and ensure that the debates are hosted in more states.
"This system may not be perfect," Spicer wrote, "but had the RNC not tried to improve the debate process, I can assure you that the debates would be neither this inclusive nor this orderly."