If there are other Herman Cains and Michele Bachmanns out there with 2016 presidential hopes, it may be much harder than it was in 2012 for them to go from "who?" to Republican presidential contenders. That's because of new rules adopted Friday by the Republican National Committee at its meeting in Memphis, Tenn.
And that's exactly how the Republican establishment wants it. The 2012 GOP nomination fight — where virtually every candidate not named Mitt Romney took the polling lead at some point after a strong debate performance, only to wilt under the increased scrutiny that goes with such success — was a lengthy and costly affair that used up energy needed for the general election.
Facing the possibility of a Hillary Clinton 2016 Democratic juggernaut, the RNC is clearly trying to put the party in the best position to regain the White House. So the RNC has been aggressively trying to reassert control.
On Friday, its members voted on new rules to punish any presidential candidate who attends a debate unsanctioned by the party. A candidate who attends such a nonsanctioned debate would lose his or her right to participate in later debates sanctioned by the RNC.
"We took action this week to take ownership of the primary debates," RNC Chairman Reince Priebus told his members attending the Memphis meeting. "Our candidates deserve a fair hearing. Our voters deserve a real debate. And the liberal media doesn't deserve to be in the driver's seat."
The goal is to avoid 2012's topsy-turvy, carnival-like atmosphere. That year, the news media and Tea Party dictated much of the process, which resulted in 20 debates overall. While they made for sometimes very entertaining TV, relatively speaking, and a very volatile race, they didn't help Romney, the eventual nominee.
The debates forced the well-funded and well-known former Massachusetts governor to move further to the right than he otherwise might have (self-deportation, anyone?) and sapped valuable time he could have better spent campaigning in key primary states.
Meanwhile, because they gave the other candidates frequent chances to appear on the same stage with Romney, the GOP establishment's preferred candidate, the debates became the way the party's sizable "anybody but Romney" segment found one alternative, then another to rally behind.
The new rules establish a 13-member committee to decide the details of the debates, including the ultimate number — expected to be 10 at most. Reining in the debates is part of the RNC's overall strategy to make its nominating process work better for the candidate favored by the party establishment. The party also acted to shorten its primary calendar.
It increased the number of national convention delegates a state party will lose if it tries to jump ahead of traditionally early caucuses in Iowa and the New Hampshire primary.
It also moved its convention to earlier in the summer, giving the eventual nominee more time to campaign against the Democratic nominee, whether it's Clinton — in which the more time the better — or someone else.