Though the precise criteria for debate participation ultimately will be decided by the networks staging them — and party leaders continue to insist nothing has been finalized — there is behind-the-scenes agreement here at the Republican National Committee spring meeting that the first debates should be capped at 12 candidates.
“Our goal is to accommodate as many candidates as possible at the beginning,” said Steve Duprey, the New Hampshire committeeman who chairs the RNC’s 2016 debate committee. “I think there’s consensus to cap it between nine and 12. And we may not need more than that, depending on how the contest goes. Each of the media partners may have different criteria and they’re going to evolve.”
The RNC’s preferences are merely guidelines for the media organizations sponsoring the debates. Nevertheless, the party hopes to influence the discussion by suggesting limits on the number of candidates — although in a sign of the sensitivities surrounding the idea of a hard cap, RNC spokesman Sean Spicer won’t refer to it as such.
“There’s no cap,” Spicer said during a media briefing Friday morning. “What there is are some logistical realities — you can only fit so many people on a stage. That number is being looked at constantly.”
In previous election cycles, early debate criteria stipulated that a candidate was eligible for inclusion once they attained at least 1 percent in the national polls. But Spicer said that threshold wouldn’t work this time around.