RNC Chair Reince Priebus has suspended the committee’s relationship with NBC in a letter to the aptly named Andrew Lack, the network’s news chief, following the debacle that was the CNBC debate on Tuesday. There was surely a lack of respect for the candidates by the moderator and panelists assembled for that show trial of a debate.
With the likes of Mark Levin calling for Priebus’ head, there was little else he could do. The announcement affects the debate scheduled for February 26, 2016 in Houston. The debate was to be held in conjunction with National Review. It is a critical debate as it would take place only four days before the Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses in a dozen states.
I do have mixed feelings about this particular development. Let’s remember that there were no conservative voices at the moderator’s table during the CNBC debate. That would not have been the case in February. The flip side of that argument is that whoever would have represented National Review probably would have been relegated to the amount of time Hugh Hewitt received at the CNN GOP debate last month.
One of two things will happen. Possibility number one is that NBC will try to make nice with the RNC and meet its demands concerning the modification of the debate format. Possibility number two is that the RNC finds some other broadcast or online entity to step into the breach. All of this is easier said than done especially with a majority of the GOP candidates in open revolt against the RNC (save for John Kasich and Chris Christie) and planning to meet this weekend to outline future debate strategy.
It’s inevitable that presidential candidates are going to hear debate questions they don’t like. It comes with the territory. But what made CNBC stand apart was the contempt the panel expressed for the answers of the candidates making no effort to listen to what they were saying. They might as well have worn their Hillary buttons on stage.
If we exclude the Houston debate for the moment there are seven other GOP debates to follow. Three of them will air on FOX (including the one on FOX Business next month), two on CNN and one apiece on ABC and CBS. It’s true that most of these networks permeate with left-wing bias. But if Republican candidates see fit to cancel the debates which have been already scheduled for CNN, ABC and CBS it could be perceived that they can’t take the heat. Besides there have already been some changes made along the way. Back in May, George Stephanopoulos was removed as moderater of the ABC debate following the disclosure of the $75,000 he gave to the Clinton Foundation. And say what you will about the CNN debate in September. Yes, it was little annoying to hear Jake Tapper repeatedly cut candidates off instead of having a pleasant sounding bell, but he should never ever be confused for John Harwood.
I am certainly open to a conglomeration of conservative organizations sponsoring a series of GOP presidential debates with conservatives moderating and asking the questions. But I also think GOP candidates should continue to appear on mainstream networks albeit with strings attached. Yes, there will be liberal bias. But this cannot be entirely avoided. Yet as we saw on Tuesday liberal bias isn’t a bad thing if it can be turned to our advantage. Let’s put it this way. The debate hurt CNBC a helluva lot more than it did the GOP.