The Republican National Committee, following criticism from candidates about the committee's rules and dwindling ratings for the contests, will not be involved in any further 2024 GOP primary debates.
Its 16-member internal body determined Friday any future debates will be hosted independently from the committee.
ABC and CNN have announced plans to host debates in Iowa and New Hampshire ahead of their voting dates, Politico reported, with the RNC's Committee on Presidential Debates claiming in a statement it has held "four successful debates across the country with the most conservative partners in the history of a Republican Party."
The decision comes after Wednesday's debate, when just four candidates were on the stage in Tuscaloosa, Alabama: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
That debate, hosted by NewsNation, drew the lowest ratings of all of the GOP debates this cycle, with 1.6 million viewers watching on that network and another 2.5 million on sister network CW, for a total of 4.1 million tuning in.
The drop was 68% lower than the numbers drawn by Fox News in the first GOP debate, which had 12.8 million viewers, according to Nielsen.
"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," the RNC debate committee added in its statement.
The RNC's announcement Friday comes after the committee and the thresholds it set for fundraising and polling numbers needed by candidates to qualify came under fire, as did the requirement that to debate, candidates must pledge to support the eventual GOP nominee and not to participate in any debates not sanctioned by the RNC.
The requirements have narrowed the debate field sharply. Eight candidates participated in the first debate this year, held in August and sponsored by Fox News.
The RNC and Chair Ronna McDaniel have been criticized for giving broadcast rights to networks seen as hostile to former President Donald Trump, including Fox, NBC, and NewsNation. Ramaswamy, during the third debate in Miami, called on McDaniel to resign.
Trump, the polling front-runner, has refused to participate in any of the debates sponsored by the RNC and has been pushing the RNC and McDaniel to quit hosting debates, saying, with his lead in the polls, the committee should be focused on the general election and defeating President Joe Biden.
Trump's aides are saying he is not likely to participate in any future debates, no matter who is sponsoring them.
Several of the candidates have also spoken out against the debate format and rules.
DeSantis told reporters in November that candidates should be allowed to participate in debates outside of the RNC's rules and complained the debate rules favor Trump while stopping "conversation between candidates from happening."
He also told Newsmax he thinks there should be more "freewheeling debates," and he does not agree with the RNC's rules.
Christie, meanwhile, in October called on the GOP to have more debates and, like DeSantis, said the RNC's rules were an attempt to "exclude conversation and not broaden it."
Ramaswamy has slammed the RNC's debate rules as part of a "brokered and rigged nomination process" that prevented "open dialogue and the airing of ideas to give primary voters a real choice."
Meanwhile, there is already some confusion about the independent dates. CNN announced plans to hold a debate Jan. 21 at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, but the school had announced it was hosting a debate with rival network ABC News three days earlier Jan. 18.
CNN's pair of GOP primary debates in Iowa and New Hampshire were announced by the left-leaning network before the RNC had officially lifted the requirement for GOP primary candidates to only participate in RNC-sanctioned debates.
Those CNN debates were not sanctioned by the RNC.
Also, CNN spokesperson said the network could not "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, the RNC's pullout from debates will mean the media outlets will determine the qualification thresholds. ABC has not announced any rules yet, but CNN is requiring candidates to be at 10% in national and early state surveys.
The RNC insisted in its statement the GOP nominee will be the next president "in part because of the fair and transparent platform the RNC established for our great candidates to debate and share our party's winning Republican message with voters across the country."
The RNC also said that as it is using streaming and digital capabilities, it is connecting with grassroots voters more than ever and the Rumble streams of the debates have "incredible viewership, with over 5 million total views and counting."
Additionally, when combined, Fox News, Fox Business, NBC News, and NewsNation received over 32 million viewers for the four debates, according to the RNC.
Sandy Fitzgerald ✉
Sandy Fitzgerald has more than three decades in journalism and serves as a general assignment writer for Newsmax covering news, media, and politics.
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