GOP moves to limit 2016 presidential debates after complaints of media bias, high number in 2012 season

 Sept. 7, 2011: The candidates at the Reagan Centennial GOP presidential primary debate, in Simi Valley, California.

Sept. 7, 2011: The candidates at the Reagan Centennial GOP presidential primary debate, in Simi Valley, California.  (REUTERS )

Washington Republicans have moved to exert more control over their presidential primary debates, limiting the types and number of events in which 2016 candidates can participate, in an effort to get a firmer grip on the nominating process.

The Republican National Committee voted overwhelming Friday in favor of the change at their spring meeting in Memphis.

The 152-to-7 decision essentially allows the group to decide which events will be “sanctioned debates” -- based on their “timing, frequency and format, the media outlet and the best interests of the Republican Party.”

And any candidate who participates in a non-sanctioned debate will not be eligible to participate in ensuing sanctioned ones.

The move follows several criticisms about the 2012 debate season including that events were controlled by the mainstream media and their moderators and that the large number of events gave insurgent candidates free TV time.

Critics say the 20 debates crowded the process and pushed establishment candidate Mitt Romney too far to the right, which contributed to his loss to President Obama.

“The liberal media doesn’t deserve to be in the driver’s seat,” said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, according to The New York Times.

Party leaders also reportedly want to put a tighter leash on the primary season by scheduling the first four contests -- in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada -- for February so that other states can start voting in March. And they are trying to move up the national convention from late summer to June.

Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul, already a likely top contender and who is expected to get the non-establishment Tea Party vote, told The Times: “I think maybe the last time we had too many. And so I think some of the rule changes, as long as they’re toward things that will enhance the party as a whole, are not a bad idea.”

CNN’s Candy Crowley is among the moderators who upset Republicans during the 2012 debates, in part because she interrupted Romney in his second debate with Obama, saying he made an incorrect statement about the fatal terror attacks on an American outpost in Benghazi.

The RNC last year voted in favor of boycotting presidential primary debates planned by CNN and NBC if they proceeded with lengthy television features on Hillary Clinton, widely expected to be a 2016 Democratic candidate.