WASHINGTON — Republican presidential candidates have agreed on a series of demands giving them greater control of debates, as the GOP’s frustrated 2016 class works to inject changes into the nominating process.
They are attempting to wrestle command from the Republican National Committee and media hosts.
Representatives from more than a dozen campaigns met behind closed doors for nearly two hours Sunday night in suburban Washington, a meeting that was not expected to yield many results given the competing interests of several candidates. Yet they emerged having agreed to several changes to be outlined in a letter to debate hosts in the coming days.
They include largely bypassing the RNC in coordinating with network hosts, mandatory opening and closing statements, an equal number of questions for candidates, and approval of on-screen graphics, according to Ben Carson campaign manager Barry Bennett, who hosted the meeting.
‘‘The amazing part for me was how friendly the meeting was,’’ Bennett said, noting the private gathering was in a room marked ‘‘family meeting.’’ “Everybody was cordial. We all agreed we need to have these meetings more regularly.’’
The GOP’s recent debate, moderated by CNBC in Boulder, Colo., on Wednesday drew harsh criticism from campaigns and GOP officials. Some candidates complained the questions were not substantive; others wanted more air time or opening and closing statements.
GOP chairman Reince Priebus decided to suspend a partnership with NBC News and its properties on a debate for February, but that didn’t satisfy the frustrated campaigns.
While the campaigns agreed to changes in principle Sunday, media companies that host the debates are under no obligation to adopt them. Bennett suggested that campaigns could boycott debates to get their way.
‘‘The only leverage we have is to not come,’’ he said.
The pushback comes despite a high-profile effort by the RNC to improve the debate process going into the 2016 election season. The party said the 2012 debate schedule promoted too much fighting among candidates, so for 2016, the RNC dramatically reduced the number of debates for this election and played a leading role in coordinating network hosts and even moderators, in some cases.
Three debates remain before the first nomination contest, the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1; the next one is scheduled for Nov. 10 in Milwaukee. The RNC has sanctioned five debates after the caucuses.
‘‘What it really comes down to is the candidates want to have more control of the ability to negotiate with the networks,’’ Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said after the meeting.
While organizers of the meeting were not including the RNC, the party has been in regular communication with campaigns about their concerns.