Trying to stave off a revolt from the candidates running for the party's 2016 nomination, the RNC has suspended plans to partner with NBC News for a February debate.
“The CNBC network is one of your media properties, and its handling of the debate was conducted in bad faith,” RNC chairman Reince Priebus wrote in a letter to NBC chairman Andrew Lack on Friday (full letter at end of post).
"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," Priebus wrote, echoing the complaints lodged by many candidates.
"What took place Wednesday night was not an attempt to give the American people a greater understanding of our candidates' policies and ideas," Priebus added.
“We understand that NBC does not exercise full editorial control over CNBC’s journalistic approach. However, the network is an arm of your organization, and we need to ensure there is not a repeat performance.”
During and after Wednesday night’s debate, candidates, RNC officials, and others blasted CNBC for their unfair handling of the debate format and their line of questioning. But the Party's actions today may not be a consequence of their displeasure as much as it was a consequence of the "revolt" by the GOP candidates who believe they need to wrest control of the debates from the RNC.
On Thursday MRCTV reported Ben Carson's staff was reaching out to the other campaign to jointly come up with a list of demands they would present to the party including the candidates picking the debate moderators and the format of future debates.
Early Friday morning Politico reported that representatives from the campaigns of Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Rick Santorum were getting together on Sunday evening in Washington, D.C. "to plot how to alter their party’s messy debate process — and how to remove power from the hands of the Republican National Committee." The meeting planners were also trying to get the GOP candidates to attend. But the RNC is not invited.
It will be interesting to see what (or if) the candidates agree about. While they all want a ban on "gotcha" questions, defining what that means will very difficult. For example Rubio's campaign may consider CNBC's question about his senate absences a "gotcha" question, Jeb Bush who's campaign is looking to target Rubio may consider it a very legitimate one.
Ben Carson stated that one of his objectives is to be able to his answers without interruption from the moderators or other candidates, but the candidates who try to interrupt might object to that goal. Candidates such as Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, and Mike Huckabee have complained they are getting short-shifted on the number of questions ant time answering, but will the candidates who are getting more time volunteer to give up some of their camera time?
Despite the party's move to head off the rebellion by firing NBC, I suspect that the Sunday evening D.C. confab between candidates will still go on and if the come up with an agreeable list of demands (a huge if) they will try and force them on the party. MRCTV will continue to monitor the story.
Read the full Reince Priebus letter to NBC News' Andrew Lack below:
Mr. Andrew Lack
Chairman, NBC News
30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, New York 10112
Dear Mr. Lack,
I write to inform you that pending further discussion between the Republican National Committee (RNC) and our presidential campaigns, we are suspending the partnership with NBC News for the Republican primary debate at the University of Houston on February 26, 2016. The RNC’s sole role in the primary debate process is to ensure that our candidates are given a full and fair opportunity to lay out their vision for America’s future. We simply cannot continue with NBC without full consultation with our campaigns.
The CNBC network is one of your media properties, and its handling of the debate was conducted in bad faith. We understand that NBC does not exercise full editorial control over CNBC’s journalistic approach. However, the network is an arm of your organization, and we need to ensure there is not a repeat performance.
CNBC billed the debate as one that would focus on “the key issues that matter to all voters—job growth, taxes, technology, retirement and the health of our national economy.” That was not the case. Before the debate, the candidates were promised an opening question on economic or financial matters. That was not the case. Candidates were promised that speaking time would be carefully monitored to ensure fairness. That was not the case. Questions were inaccurate or downright offensive. The first question directed to one of our candidates asked if he was running a comic book version of a presidential campaign, hardly in the spirit of how the debate was billed.
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. What took place Wednesday night was not an attempt to give the American people a greater understanding of our candidates’ policies and ideas.
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.
While we are suspending our partnership with NBC News and its properties, we still fully intend to have a debate on that day, and will ensure that National Review remains part of it.
I will be working with our candidates to discuss how to move forward and will be in touch.
Chairman, Republican National Committee