Presidential races

RNC pulls out of NBC debate

The Republican National Committee on Friday pulled out of a planned Feb. 26 debate with NBC News amidst a revolt by candidates after Wednesday’s CNBC debate. 

{mosads}”While debates are meant to include tough questions and contrast candidates’ visions and policies for the future of America, CNBC’s moderators engaged in a series of ‘gotcha’ questions, petty and mean-spirited in tone, and designed to embarrass our candidates,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus wrote in a letter to NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack. 

Since CNBC is an NBC Universal property, “We are suspending the partnership with NBC News” for its Feb. 26 debate. 

Priebus’s email panned CNBC for “inaccurate or downright offensive” questions, specifically singling out a question to Donald Trump, who was asked whether he was running a “comic book” version of a presidential campaign.    

“What took place Wednesday night was not an attempt to give the American people a greater understanding of our candidates’ policies and ideas.  

Debates can mean big money for networks, which charge premium prices to advertise for the event. CNBC reportedly charged about $250,000 for a 30-second ad during Wednesday night’s debate — similar to reported prices for the previous CNN debate. 

The decision is the RNC’s response to the rumbling of complaints that bubbled over during the debate, when Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) and other bashed the moderators for political bias and unfair questions. Immediately after the debate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s campaign manager confronted the network backstage over how little time his candidate received. 

GOP front-runner Donald Trump came out in support of the RNC’s decision Friday afternoon. 

“The campaign supports the RNC’s decision to suspend the debate on February 26th due to the total lack of substance and respect exhibited during Wednesday’s night’s debate,” Trump’s campaign said in a statement. “We look forward to pursuing alternatives along with the RNC to ensure candidates are given ample opportunity to outline their vision for the future of our country.”

A spokesperson for Ben Carson said the campaign has “no objections to the decision,” but still wants to see changes to the process to ensure the debates are “about informing the public and not about network ratings.”

Some campaigns are still set to meet this weekend to air their grievances and determine what other steps might be taken to avoid issues in future debates. 

The RNC has tried to take more of a leading role in debates after 2012, slicing the number of debates to about one-third of the contests from that cycle.  

While the editorial decisions, specifically debate questions, are up to the media organizations, it has control over the logistics and ultimately whether the debate gets its blessing.

But that hasn’t stopped complaints about the criteria in each of the three debates—Fox News chose to lower the qualifications for its undercard debate and CNN expanded the criteria to include Carly Fiorina, both decisions amid criticism. And the pushback from the campaigns on CNBC’s debate hasn’t relented since late Wednesday night.  

In his letter to NBC, Priebus wrote, “I have tremendous respect for the First Amendment and freedom of the press. However, I also expect the media to host a substantive debate on consequential issues important to Americans. CNBC did not.” 

NBC responded to the RNC’s decision in an email statement Friday afternoon saying, “This is a disappointing development. However, along with our debate broadcast partners at Telemundo we will work in good faith to resolve this matter with the Republican Party.”

A source with NBC pointed out that NBC News had no editorial control over the debate. Lack’s corporate bio says that he only oversees NBC News and MSNBC. CNBC is a separate property under the NBC Universal umbrella. 

The RNC still plans to hold a debate on that date that includes National Reviewa conservative publication that partnered with NBC for the upcoming debate.   

The decision to pull out of the NBC debate was met with mixed reviews from RNC veterans. 

Jim Nicholson, a former RNC chairman during the 2000 election, applauded Priebus’ decision and told The Hill that the “RNC ought to continue to use their megaphone to try to get these networks and moderators to have the same set of standards.” 

“That’s a pretty big stick because those debates have been very well watched, so the advertising time is very valuable to the networks,” Nicholson said of the threat of pulling out of another debate. 

As far as the candidates, he added, their leverage lies in uniting together if they want to push for substantive changes to future debate criteria. 

“They are the strongest when they act collectively,” he said, adding that Donald Trump and Ben Carson won their demands to have opening and closing statements, as well as a two-hour time limit on the debate, after threatening to pull out of CNBC’s debate.  

That win was short-lived, however, as Priebus’ letter notes that the network eschewed the opening statement to instead ask candidates about their weaknesses.  

But former RNC chairman Michael Steele, who has clashed with Priebus in the past, said the move to suspend the partnership with NBC would do nothing ameliorate the frustration candidates have with the debate process as a whole.

“This doesn’t solve the problem,” Steele said. “The original idea was for the RNC to have more control over the process but now the candidates are already making their move and it’s too late.” 

“I don’t think it’s a bold move,” he added. “They’re trying to appease the candidates who are already pissed off at the process they created. What they’ve got to do is look forward and determine the style of debate they want and who is going to be up there for it, rather than just reacting to what happened with CNBC, which was abhorrent.”

Tags Donald Trump GOP debate Ted Cruz
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