Republicans look to change structure of campaign debates

That leads to the inevitable issue of who will ask the questions. “The RNC has to pick credible, challenging, realistic, independent moderators,” says Fleischer. The field of choices, he adds, is wide open. “It could be a conservative radio personality, a conservative columnist, a former White House aide or presidential campaign aide, someone who has been there before.”

Fleischer and party officials say the RNC does not view the change as an either-or proposition. Future campaigns might have hybrid debate schedules; the RNC might produce some of its own debates while still partnering with news organizations for others. “Let’s say the first debate is an RNC debate,” says party spokesman Sean Spicer. “The second one is on Fox, the third one is on Bloomberg, the fourth one is RNC…” And so on. (Note: I am a Fox News contributor and was a panelist in a 2011 debate co-hosted by Fox and the Washington Examiner.)

One key question for the RNC is viewership. If it produced some of the Republican debates itself, and offered them to all outlets, would the total viewership be as high as a debate on cable news? That’s something officials really haven’t scoped out yet. “There’s no point in having a debate if no one watches,” says Fleischer. “We want to take the debates back, but we don’t want to keep them to ourselves.”