CNBC, RNC Agree To Modify Rules For October 28th Debate, Including Two Hour Time Limit

After complaints from several campaigns, and threats of a boycott by the men at the top of the field, CNBC and the RNC have agreed to some rule modifications for the upcoming Republican debate.

Republican Debate September 16

CNBC has agreed to most of the debate format stipulations demanded by Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and several of the other Republican candidates for President:

CNBC, the Republican National Committee and the GOP presidential campaigns have agreed to criteria for the October 28 primary debate in Boulder, Colorado.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus tweeted that the parties have agreed to the following criteria: a two-hour debate, including commercials; a 30-second closing statement for each candidate; and a single, open-ended question at the beginning of the debate that each candidate will have the opportunity to answer.

The new criteria satisfies several of the campaigns’ demands for opening and closing statements, as well a 120-minute cap on the debate time.

CNN reported earlier Friday that CNBC had agreed to limit its forthcoming Republican primary debate to two hours and allow for opening and/or closing statements, acquiescing to the public demands of Donald Trump and Ben Carson, and the private demands of several GOP campaigns.

Trump and Carson had threatened to pull out of the faceoff if the hosts didn’t agree to their demands.

In a letter to CNBC, the two candidates said they would not participate “if it is longer than 120 minutes, including commercials, and does not include opening and closing statements.”

Thursday, in a conference call between Republican National Committee officials and top advisers to the presidential campaigns, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski had said that Trump would consider skipping the debate if his terms were not met.

Top aides to Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul also insisted that the debate feature opening and closing statements, with Paul aide Chris LaCivita saying at one point that CNBC could “go f— themselves” if they weren’t willing to agree to those terms, according to two sources on the call.

The demand for opening and closing statements reflects the candidates’ interest in getting their messages out unchallenged. The demand for a two-hour debate comes in the wake of CNN’s decision to extend the previous GOP debate to three hours, leaving some of the candidates visibly exhausted.

But a two-hour broadcast, including commercials, with opening and closing statements, will limit the actual debate time to less than 90 minutes — a short period of time considering that 10 or more GOP hopefuls are likely to appear on stage for the main event.

Another option would be for the network to limit the time it interrupts the debate for commercials so that there’s more time to hear from the candidates. Of course, doing so would limit the amount of revenue that the broadcast will generate from what are likely to be higher than normal ratings for CNBC based on the viewership for the August 6th and September 16th Republican debates and the Democratic debate earlier this week. Additionally, it’s probable that the campaigns themselves would have objected to an uninterrupted debate since it would have limited, or eliminated the amount of time that candidates have to take care of personal needs, briefly confer with aides, or simply take a break from standing under studio lights that make the stage much warmer than it might otherwise be.

In any case, as I said when this issue came up on Thursday, it seems to me that limiting the length of the debate to some degree wasn’t an entirely unreasonable request. The first two Republican debates lasted far too long for any reasonable person to watch, and the additional time didn’t really add anything to the substantive content of the affair. In no small part, of course, the length of these two debates was due to the size of the Republican field and the fact that, even after pushing the lower-polling candidates to the undercard debate there were ten and eleven participants respectfully in the two debates. This time, though, CNBC’s rules limiting participation on the main stage to those polling at 2.5% or above in an average of the polls that are being considered means that, at most, their will be eight people on the debate stage. Ideally, of course, the debate stage should be pared down even further to those candidates who have at least some realistic shot at winning the nomination — Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee are currently averaging 3.6% under the CNBC criteria, for example, but neither of them has any realistic shot at the nomination — but that kind of paring down can wait for future debates. As things stand, these new rules should make the October 28th debate more manageable, and possibly even just a little more substantive, than the past two Republican affairs.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. jd says:

    Before the first debate they were trying to find ways to keep T-rump off the stage. Now…

  2. Gustopher says:

    So, the front runners, Trump and Carson, have succeeded in limiting the speaking time of anyone who might be considered an eventual threat. Well done.

    Candidates will get mere moments to speak, and will have to do something truly outrageous to be noticed.

  3. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Gustopher: Seems to me that the campaigns are pretty much aligned on their objections, so I’m not sure how much credit I want to give the Trump and Carson campaigns for the changes. I will admit to their current 800-pound-gorilla status, though.

    Limiting the speaking time of anyone (regardless of their ability to be considered as an eventual threat) is baked into the cake at the recipe level. I can’t see blaming Trump and Carson for requiring candidates to speak in sound bites–especially when all but two (IIRC) of the campaigns were united in their threats to not come and even those two made the same objections.

    I don’t see the campaigns or GOP as really wanting voters to be thinking about what the candidates stand for all that much.