The Republican National Committee (RNC) confirms that a GOP debate in the works for Jan. 16 hosted by Liberty University and sponsored by the Washington Times fell through in the planning stages, according to RNC chief strategist and communications director Sean Spicer. The move comes after more than a year of talks between the university and Spicer over hosting a debate. Liberty University is a frequent stop for Republican politicians, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who launched his 2016 campaign at the Lynchburg, Va., campus, and Ben Carson and others. (On the other side, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) tried to reach ideological middle ground with the mostly conservative audience at the university).
The RNC’s debate schedule page makes reference to efforts by the group to “partner with conservative media to make sure the concerns of grassroots Republicans are addressed.” The Liberty University-Washington Times event was an effort to fill that part of the schedule.
“This one couldn’t come together but we look forward to working with Liberty and the Times on another event in this cycle,” Spicer told the Erik Wemple Blog. The RNC, says Spicer, routinely fields proposals for debates. “There’ve probably been 15-20 proposals over the past several months,” he says. “It’s a lot of things that go into these things. Sometimes they work out; sometimes they don’t. We’re extremely impressed with Liberty’s facilities, professionalism and commitment.” Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. recently made news when he said: “If more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in and killed them.” According to Spicer, the decision about the event was reached days before those remarks.
One of the ideas for the debate, confirms Spicer, was to make it an open-signal affair, meaning that no single broadcaster could brand it. C-SPAN says that it was considering the possibility of broadcasting the debate but hadn’t reached a decision. Another point of discussion relates to moderators: Bloomberg Politics’s Mark Halperin was considered strongly as an option, as was Fox News host Sean Hannity. We’ve made inquiries to both Bloomberg and Fox News.
Liberty University didn’t respond to inquiries regarding the debate, though Falwell was excited about the prospects back in November. “Liberty is unique in its conservativeness and it is unique in many ways,” he said in a news account. “I’m excited about it, but I’ve tried not to get excited about it until it’s a done deal.”
The coming months are heavy with Republican presidential debates, starting tomorrow night in Las Vegas under the banner of CNN.