Ben Carson on Sunday laid out his list of criteria for a better debate, including more time for opening and closing statements, stricter time limits and less “gotcha” questions, hours before the meeting his campaign helped organize brings together a number of Republican campaigns to talk debate reform.
“The people need to be able to find out what is the thing that distinguishes each one of us. You know, you can spend forever combing back through somebody’s history and say, “In 1942, didn’t you say…?,” Carson said in an interview with ABC News. “Come on, give me a break, we need to mature in the way that we do these debates if they’re going to be useful to the American people.”
The meeting – and Carson’s new specific demands – come just days after the third GOP presidential debate, in which many of the candidates balked at the questions they were asked.
Carson and rival front-runner Donald Trump have criticized the debate process, and even suggested they might skip the most recent CNBC debate if it wasn’t under three hours and didn’t include opening and closing statements. (CNBC hadn’t announced the debate format when the pair made their demands and later said they didn’t change anything to accommodate them, though the format did comply in the end.)
Carson on Sunday said the “substantial” opening and closing statements should be each a minute in length (less than the five-minute statements his campaign had reportedly been considering asking for) and a more strictly enforced time limit was key to a better debate going forward. Carson was ranked eighth in speaking time at the last debate, while Carly Fiorina spoke the most, followed by Marco Rubio, John Kasich and Donald Trump.
“You know, some people just pretty much ignore what the time constraints are. Others are very careful to stay within them,” Carson said. “And I think that creates inequality. So we need to just tighten it up a little bit and do it more like a professional type of debate.”
The Republican candidate also said he wants moderators to be “interested in disseminating the information about the candidates as opposed to, you know, “gotcha,” “you did this” and “defend yourself on that,” you know.”
Asked whether he wanted the candidates to be challenged, Carson said “there’s a time and place for that,” but stressed that the primary debate process should be a place to “highlight the differences in philosophy” in the crowded field.
Carson’s campaign is organizing the Sunday meeting with the campaigns of Donald Trump, Bobby Jindal and Lindsey Graham. According to Politico, which first broke news of the meeting, representatives from Gov. Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio are expected to attend, with GOP lawyer Ben Ginsberg “facilitating” the discussions. Carly Fiorina’s campaign was originally said to be joining, but on Sunday she said “logistically” they couldn’t arrange for her team to join.
Gov. Chris Christie will not attend; “If you can’t take it, on the stage, no matter whether it’s fair or unfair, and I thought there was a lot of unfair stuff the other night,” he told NBC News in Iowa. “But if you can’t take it, then how are you going to take running against Hillary Clinton, how are you going to take negotiating for America around the world?”