GOP Debate Meeting: What the campaigns want

cnbc gop debate group 3

Republican presidential campaigns will gather outside of Washington, D.C., on Sunday night to discuss potential changes to the GOP debates format, a move that comes amid widespread frustration with the Republican National Committee's handling of the nomination process.

But while all campaigns would like to see more substantive debates, they are hardly aligned in their specific goals, several campaign sources told CNN. Moreover, the proposals some campaigns have already put forward are so extreme that they would effectively redefine what it means to hold a political debate.

Barry Bennett, the Ben Carson campaign manager who organized the meeting, has told other campaigns that they want all candidates to appear on the same stage for two-hour debates where each candidate is given five minutes for opening and closing statements.

Related: GOP tells NBC next debate suspended over 'gotcha' questions

With 14 candidates in the running, such criteria would mean that more than half the debate would be given over to individual statements, while candidates would be left with just three to four minutes each to participate in a 50-minute debate. And that would be only if the media partners agreed to forego commercial breaks.

In short, what the Carson campaign is proposing is more a forum than a debate -- an opportunity for candidates to get their messages across with minimal challenges from their rivals or from the debate moderators.

Sources with rival campaigns told CNN that Bennett was likely setting the bar impossibly high in order to achieve the best possible result. In an interview with ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, Carson himself said that he wanted only "at least a minute" for opening statements and the same for closing statements.

Related: GOP candidates plot debate revolt against RNC

Bennett has also expressed a desire for fewer televised debates, a proposal that does little for a candidate like Sen. Marco Rubio, who has excelled in the first three contests, or Carly Fiorina, who has relied on the debates to boost her name recognition.

Undercard candidates like Sen. Lindsey Graham and Gov. Bobby Jindal simply want to participate in the prime time debates.

One proposal that is certain to be discussed, sources said: Splitting the debates up into two randomly assorted groups of seven candidates, allowing all 14 candidates an equal platform without crowding the debate stage.

The meeting, which will take place at 6 p.m. at the Hilton Old Town in Alexandria, Virginia, comes amid campaigns' frustration with CNBC's handling of last week's debate, which they say lacked substance and was too focused on pitting candidates against one another.

"We have to ask ourselves, what is the purpose of a debate," Carson said Sunday morning on ABC. "We should have moderators who are interested in disseminating information to the American voters, instead of 'gotcha!'"

Related: 'Shell-shocked' CNBC staffers had long flight home

It also comes as the campaigns grow increasingly frustrated with the RNC's handling of the debate process generally. The RNC serves as a go-between for the campaigns and the debate sponsors, but several campaigns believe the committee has ceded too much power to the media organizations and done a poor job of representing their interests.

"We've taken a back seat to this process, and we want to move closer to the front," a source with one of the campaigns told CNN.

The next debate, which is being sponsored by Fox Business Network, is scheduled to take place on November 10. Fox is moving forward with its plans, which include longer times for answers to questions.

Related: Fox's debate ad says 'CNBC never asked the real questions'

But a later debate may be imperiled. RNC chairman Reince Priebus announced on Friday that the party is "suspending" next February's NBC News-Telemundo-National Review debate because it believed CNBC had conducted its debate in "bad faith."

Priebus said it still intends to hold a debate in February with National Review as a partner. NBC may be back in the fold once the network holds conversations with the RNC.

At the moment, both NBC and the RNC are in a holding pattern, waiting to find out what happens at Sunday's meeting.

That's because the RNC has not been invited. But Priebus and other committee officials are expected to be debriefed on the talking points afterward.

Instead, the campaigns have invited Ben Ginsberg, a Republican lawyer and debate negotiator, who will serve as an impartial facilitator of the meeting.

"I'm going to tell them you need to figure out what to do," he said on CNN's "State of the Union."

"There have been problems with the first three debates," Ginsberg said, but he quickly added, "It's their meeting and their agenda and their debates."


CNNMoney Sponsors