“Our concern is that the party was putting its thumb on the scale,” said an aide to one of the seven undercard campaigns. “It’s really important for the party to be unbiased and fair arbiter in this process to allow voters a chance to hear from all candidates. Unfortunately, certain things took place in the last debate that hopefully will be corrected in the debates to come.”
Though they mostly spoke on condition of anonymity, their complaints were wide-ranging and often overlapping: From contradictory communications about who, if anyone, would be allowed in the arena, which was largely empty during the debate, to a since-deleted tweet by an RNC staffer of Chairman Reince Priebus peering down at the nearly deserted facility, to a decision by the RNC — which held its summer meetings in Cleveland the same week — to hold a rules session and two receptions while the seven candidates were onstage.
Adding to the insult was the energy and enthusiasm that accompanied the prime-time Republican debate later the same night, featuring the top 10 candidates and an arena packed with 5,000 raucous attendees.