Earlier this week, CNN announced that it would be hosting two Republican presidential primary debates next month in Iowa and New Hampshire, just ahead of those states’ GOP voters going to the polls to select a nominee.
Well, there’s just one little snag: the small New Hampshire college chosen for the Jan. 21 debate says they don’t know what CNN is talking about.
“[W]e were surprised to be included on a press release by a network about a debate which we had not planned or booked. Such a debate announcement breached the RNC debate rules. We have and will continue to work with the Republican Party on debates,” Neil Levesque, the Executive Director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics and Political Library at Saint Anselm College, tweeted on Friday morning.
Furthermore, the state’s Republican Party chairman also said that they had no idea that CNN was hosting a GOP debate in the state next month until the network’s announcement came out on Thursday.
“The CNN thing came out and everybody’s like, ‘What the heck?’” New Hampshire Republican Party chair Chris Ager told The New York Times on Friday. “I’m still scratching my head. And I still haven’t been contacted by CNN at all.”
Ager, however, pointed out that he has been working closely with ABC News on their GOP debate, which is scheduled to be held on Jan. 18 at Saint Anselm. Furthermore, he told the Times, ABC’s debate has the approval of both the school and New Hampshire GOP officials.
“We’ve been working for months planning with ABC,” he said. “We’ve already done a run-through of the facility. We’ve agreed on a lot of the details.”
Ager went on to say that the CNN announcement came as a shock, adding that for “a big, professional organization like that, putting out a location on this date and the location doesn’t know—something’s not quite right.”
Reacting to the apparent snafu, a CNN spokeswoman said: “We can’t speak to any miscommunication within Saint Anselm, but we are moving forward with our plans to host a debate in New Hampshire on Jan. 21.”
Meanwhile, don’t expect the Republican National Committee to weigh in on this kerfuffle. The RNC decided on Friday that it was done participating in 2024 GOP primary debates, following this past Wednesday’s event on NewsNation.
“We have held four successful debates across the country with the most conservative partners in the history of a Republican primary. We have no RNC debates scheduled in January and any debates currently scheduled are not affiliated with the RNC,” the RNC’s Committee on Presidential Debates said. “It is now time for Republican primary voters to decide who will be our next President and candidates are free to use any forum or format to communicate to voters as they see fit.”
With the RNC now out of the debate picture, it not only means that candidates are no longer subjected to the party’s previous rules allowing them to participate only in RNC-approved debates, but it leaves media outlets responsible for arranging future forums. This latest confusion over CNN’s New Hampshire event, though, highlights the possible issues over the lack of RNC involvement.
The RNC will also no longer establish qualification thresholds for candidate participation, which has helped narrow the GOP field in recent months, instead leaving it to networks to determine those benchmarks on their own. CNN, for instance, is requiring candidates to reach 10 percent support in three national or state polls in order to qualify.
Twice-impeached ex-president Donald Trump, the clear GOP frontrunner, has yet to participate in any primary debates, and it seems highly unlikely that he will change his mind anytime soon. He has also pleaded for months for the Republican Party to “stop the debates.”