The Republican National Committee is suspending its participation in a scheduled February debate hosted by NBC News and Telemundo after complaints from GOP presidential campaigns about this week's CNBC debate, RNC chairman Reince Priebus announced on Friday.
"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 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. NBC News and CNBC share a parent company and operate independently.
According to Priebus, the RNC will sanction a candidate debate for the same February 26 date, but as of now will only work with National Review, a conservative outlet that was also set to participate in the NBC/Telemundo debate. .
“This is a disappointing development," NBC News said in a statement. "However, along with our debate broadcast partners at Telemundo we will work in good faith to resolve this matter with the Republican Party.”
The RNC's move comes after an array of complaints from Republican candidates about their primary debates, culminating with the CNBC gathering. Aides to several contenders will meet this weekend in Washington to vent their frustration, MSNBC has confirmed, without the RNC present.
Since the first Republican debate, hosted by Fox News in August, campaigns have criticized many aspects of the debates including the tone and subject of questions, the distribution of speaking time, and the polling requirements to be part of the main-stage event. Individual campaigns have also raised issues with the length and number of the debates as well as their format, particularly regarding opening and closing statements. Ten campaigns have signed on to the summit to take place this weekend, NBC News reported.
"There is a unification around taking control of the debate in some format and taking it out of the hands of the network and the RNC," an aide to one GOP campaign participating in the meeting told NBC News. "They got three strikes, they’re out."
Well aware of the mounting anger, RNC chairman Reince Priebus has complained repeatedly since the debate ahead of his Friday announcement.
“I just can’t tell you how pissed off I am,” Priebus said on Fox News on Thursday. He added he would “make sure that we can do everything possible to make sure last night doesn’t happen again.”
The campaigns have each raised a number of different issues, some of which may be in conflict with each other, and the goal of the meeting will be to see if they can reach a consensus on their demands for the RNC and debate hosts moving forward. Some of the candidates attacked the debate moderators from the podium Wednesday, drawing loud applause from the crowd.
The RNC is struggling to handle what may be an impossible task — managing a gigantic presidential field that began with 17 candidates and has since shrunk to 14 debate participants. The committee was more actively involved in this year’s format and schedule after concerns that the 2012 cycle’s endless schedule of debates dragged the party down by fostering division and pushing the candidates into uncomfortable-issue territory. Under new rules, this year’s candidates are penalized for participating in any debate not sanctioned by the RNC.
Jeb Bush’s campaign manager Danny Diaz confronted CNBC producers mid-debate to complain that his candidate was not being called on enough. “I did communicate with CNBC displeasure about speaking time,” he told reporters in the spin room afterwards.