Donald Trump pulled the rug out from under a plan by GOP candidates to wrest control of debate coordination from the RNC, saying this afternoon he would not sign their joint letter of demands for future debates. Instead, Trump said, Trumpily, that every network will be negotiating with him individually. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich followed suit, saying they also would not sign the letter.
That all good news for Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, who last week faced a revolt of his party’s presidential candidates over the committee’s lousy handling of the CNBC debate. In response, Priebus sent a kick-the-dog letter to NBC News chief Andy Lack suspending plans for NBC to broadcast and moderate the party’s February debate.
“Have you lost control of the debate process?” ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos asked Priebus this morning on Good Morning America, before Trump announced he was going rogue:
Last week, in his letter to Lack, Priebus wrote, “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.
“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,” Priebus added in the letter to Lack who, technically, does not oversee CNBC — though he might wish he did, given the headache that NBCUniversal network has triggered for him.
Priebus’ tough-talk letter was blasted to the network as many of his party’s candidates arranged to meet Sunday in a hotel just across the river from Washington D.C. to pound out their demands for future debates.
In a letter drafted by veteran GOP attorney Ben Ginsberg, candidates insisted networks ditch questions asking candidates raise-your-hand-if questions. That demand seems more pointed at Fox News than CNBC. Opening FNC’s debate, Bret Baier had asked GOP candidates to raise their hands if they would not pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee. Trump alone raised his hand, eliciting hearty boos from the audience:
In the list of demands compiled by GOP candidates, networks also must jettison yes-or-no questions unless candidates are provided ample time to elaborate. They must agree not to broadcast reaction shots of audience members or moderators or show an empty podium after a break or describe how far away from the stage are the bathrooms. Also 86’d are shots of candidates from behind, showing they are working with notes. Networks must promise not to leave microphones on during breaks, and the hall must be kept at 67 degrees or colder.
Trump, who has taken credit for the GOP debates’ whopping ratings, said he was forced to step in and do the RNC’s work to get the CNBC debate cut down from three hours to two. Trump said it was part of a network plan to sell more ads at $250K a pop. During his closing statement at that debate, Trump detailed how he’d had to step in where the RNC failed.
Meanwhile, the internecine squabbling that has broken out in the GOP in the wake of CNBC’s debate has given Fox Business Network a great hook for its upcoming GOP debate, set for November 10: