As Rachel noted on last night’s show, this week’s CNBC debate for the Republican presidential candidates sparked considerable intra-party discontent, and an unknown number of Republican campaigns are planning to gather in D.C. on Sunday night to plot how to alter their party`s debate process.
Officials from the Republican National Committee – the entity responsible for scheduling and co-sponsoring each of the officially sanctioned debates – have reportedly not been invited to attend at the gathering.
Today, the debate over debates took an even more dramatic turn. MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin reported this afternoon that the RNC has suspended its participation in a debate co-hosted by NBC News and Telemundo, scheduled for February.
“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 Chair Reince Priebus] said in a letter to NBC News and MSNBC chairman Andrew Lack.Among the complaints Priebus cited: Insufficient focus on the debate’s theme of economic and financial issues, uneven screen time for candidates, and “inaccurate or downright offensive” questions.
Priebus’ letter added that the Republican National Committee remains committed to working with National Review, a conservative magazine that was set to participate in the NBC/Telemundo debate.
In a statement, NBC News responded to the letter, “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.”
Priebus first complained about how CNBC handled the debate directly after the event. CNBC responded to the criticism Wednesday night, saying, “People who want to be president of the United States should be able to answer tough questions.”
The RNC letter comes on the heels of Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) latest Fox News appearance, where he said last night, “How about a debate moderated by Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, and Rush Limbaugh? Now that would be a debate.”
It’s hard not to get the impression that some in the party are quite content to remain comfortably inside a far-right bubble as much as possible.
I’d note for context that in August 2013, Reince Priebus told MSNBC that he not only intended to exclude some networks from the party’s debate process, but he also intended to exclude moderators unless he considered them sufficiently “interested in the future of the Republican Party and our nominees.”
All of this represents a shift of sorts from the Republican Party’s original plans for 2016. In a long-forgotten portion of the RNC’s 2012 “autopsy” report, party officials specifically argued, “The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself. We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.”
Somewhere at party headquarters, it’s likely this RNC report is doing little more than gathering dust.