What RNC Members Say About Trump’s Calls to Cancel Debates

What RNC Members Say About Trumps Calls to Cancel Debates | ltc-a

After refusing to participate in the first two Republican debates, former President Donald J. Trump and aides to his campaign have spent the past week arguing that there should be no more. The Republican National Committee, they say, should treat the race for the party’s nomination as over, given Mr. Trump’s large lead in the polls.

But in interviews on Thursday, more than a dozen members of the R.N.C. suggested that they were giving little weight to the Trump campaign’s appeal.

Two members of the party’s debate committee said the notion of canceling debates had not even risen to the level of discussion on the committee. The members — Juliana Bergeron, the national committeewoman from New Hampshire, and Gordon Kinne, the national committeeman from Missouri — also said they were undecided on which candidate to support themselves.

Mr. Trump, they said, was not entitled to the deference that the party would give an incumbent.

“This is what we’re doing. He’s known that all along,” Mr. Kinne said. “We understand that he’s got a substantial lead and that may stay that way, but these other people are entitled to have their day too, and we’re trying to make it fair. So you just can’t go change the rules in the middle of the game.”

The New York Times spoke with 14 members of the R.N.C., including Ms. Bergeron and Mr. Kinne. Only one of the members supported Mr. Trump’s suggestion — and reluctantly.

That member, Louis Gurvich, the state chairman of the Republican Party of Louisiana, said that he considered debates “an essential part of the political process,” but that he did not realistically expect productive ones in the current race. “Quite frankly, I think the debates have demeaned every candidate who participated in them,” he said of the first two, expressing frustration at the candidates’ shouting over one another as they fought for airtime.

The other R.N.C. members who spoke with The Times dismissed the idea, with varying degrees of frustration.

“It’s nuts. I mean, it’s crazy,” said Henry Barbour, national committeeman for Mississippi, adding that he had not decided which candidate to support. “Why would — we’re just going to cancel the primary?”

Paul Dame, the chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, who had urged Republicans to move on from Mr. Trump, said the suggestion was “a slap in the face of voters.”

“Trump would have been screaming if Jeb Bush had tried to pull something like that back in 2016,” Mr. Dame said. “Trump was the outsider in the 2016 race, and now he’s trying to use his position as the insider to shut other people out, which is the exact kind of thing he used to be against.”

Gordon Ackley, the party chairman in the Virgin Islands; Oscar Brock, the national committeeman for Tennessee; José Cunningham, the national committeeman for Washington, D.C.; Drew McKissick, the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party; Bill Palatucci, the national committeeman for New Jersey; Andy Reilly, the national committeeman for Pennsylvania; Steve Scheffler, the national committeeman for Iowa; and Michael Whatley, the chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party and general counsel for the R.N.C., all rejected the idea as well.

“If the R.N.C. is not going to handle a Republican presidential debate, then who will?” said Mr. Reilly, who is not yet committed to supporting a particular candidate. He disagreed with the assertion by Chris LaCivita, a Trump campaign adviser, that the most recent debate on Sept. 27 was “boring and inconsequential.”

“I think it’s very constructive,” Mr. Reilly said of the process. “It hones the candidates. Whoever will be the ultimate nominee will be more seasoned.”

The Times contacted nearly all of the R.N.C.’s 168 members, but most of those publicly aligned with Mr. Trump did not respond. A few members, including Tyler Bowyer of Arizona, Patti Lyman of Virginia and Roger Villere of Louisiana, told Politico that they saw the debates as useless or were ambivalent about them, but these members did not respond to Times inquiries.

The R.N.C. does not pay for the debates. It sponsors them, and the costs are borne by the media companies that host them.

In a statement earlier this week calling for the debates to be canceled, Mr. LaCivita and another Trump adviser, Susie Wiles, suggested that the R.N.C. needed to devote its money to fighting election fraud instead. Returning to Mr. Trump’s lies that the 2020 election was stolen from him, they claimed with no evidence that the 2024 election would be stolen.

Neil Vigdor contributed reporting.