GOP Suspends Debate Partnership With NBC News And Telemundo In Wake Of CNBC Debate

In the wake of Wednesday's debate, the Republican National Committee has suspended its partnership in a planned February debate with NBC News and Spanish language network Telemundo.


Whatever Republican candidates for President are remaining by then are scheduled to have a debate on February 26th at the University of Houston that was originally supposed to be co-sponsored by National Review and NBC News along with NBC’s Spanish-language network Telemundo. That’s now in doubt since Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Prieibus has suspended RNC’s partnership with NBC in the wake of Wednesday’s CNBC debate:

The RNC has suspended plans to partner with NBC News for a February debate, citing a “bad faith” performance by CNBC in Wednesday night’s meeting of the candidates.

“The CNBC network is one of your media properties, and its handling of the debate was conducted in bad faith,” RNC chairman Reince Priebus wrote in a letter to NBC chairman Andrew Lack on Friday. “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.”

During and after Wednesday night’s debate, candidates and GOP officials lashed out at CNBC for the handling of the debate format and their line of questioning.

The February forum — scheduled for Feb. 26, at the University of Houston — was the only Republican primary debate set to be co-hosted by a Hispanic news organization, with National Review as the conservative media partner. Priebus said a debate will still occur on that date, and National Review will still be a part of it, but he did not say whether another Spanish-language media organization will be involved. The relationship between the two organizations is not necessarily dead, and NBC News said in a statement they plan to work with the RNC to resolve their issues.

“This is a disappointing development. However, along with our debate partners at Telemundo, we will work in good faith to resolve this matter with the Republican Party,” NBC News said in a statement.

In his letter on Friday, Priebus argued that CNBC assured the committee that the debate would focus on substantive policy issues like jobs and taxes, but he said the network failed on that count. He also said it failed to guarantee relatively equal speaking time for the candidates.

“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 wrote in the letter to NBC. “What took place Wednesday night was not an attempt to give the American people a greater understanding of our candidates’ policies and ideas.”


Steve Duprey, a New Hampshire Republican committeeman who chairs the RNC’s Debates Committee, said his panel voted unanimously to suspend NBC based on two complaints: unfair time distribution among the candidates and the “snarky and condescending” tone of the moderators’ questions.

“No network should be proud of that debate,” he said in an interview.

Duprey said Republicans have been frustrated by networks’ crowing about how much money they’re making off of the debates.

“I think but for the candidates speaking up and the RNC stepping in, CNBC might have tried to make it a three hour debate because they were making money,” he said.

He added that the networks have been too plain about their intent to get the candidates to attack each other.

“They’re trying to make it like the Ali-Frazier fight,” he said. But he also noted that the nearly universal panning of CNBC’s performance might be enough of a warning to other networks to keep the questions high-minded.

“I don’t think anybody, our candidates, our party or a network wants to have a debate that is so poorly perceived in the public eye than the one that just happened,” he said.

In reality, the RNC’s decision here was as much a response to the criticism that it has received in the last two days as anything else. From the moment the debate ended, and indeed while it was still going on, many on the right were criticizing Priebus and the RNC for even agreeing to allow CNBC to host a debate to begin with, or for not having a tighter control over how the affair was conducted. That criticism has been most plainly seen in the announcement that representatives of the Presidential campaigns were planning to meet over the weekend to discuss the debate issue, and that the RNC was most explicitly not invited to the proceedings. Some pundits have even called for the entire process to be taken out of the RNC’s hands, although when that happened in 2012, it resulted in nearly two dozen debates before anyone had even voted, which pretty much everyone agreed was overkill. Whatever the solution, though, it was clear by this morning that the RNC had something of a revolt on its hands, so it’s not entirely surprising that it would take a move like this, especially against a media entity like NBC News which doesn’t really have the best reputation among conservatives to begin with.

One problem that this decision presents for the RNC, of course, is that it cuts one of the nation’s most watched Spanish language news networks out of the debate process, at least for the moment. In theory, the party could chose to the partner with another network such as ABC, which frequently works with Telemundo competitor Univision, or with Fox News, which has its own Spanish language news source in Fox News Latino, although at present that organization only has a online presence and doesn’t have nearly the audience reach of either Telemundo or Univision. The other alternative, of course, is that the RNC and NBC News end up resolving the issues between them, which is certainly possible given the amount of time between now and the date of the scheduled debate. Whatever the resolution, though, it seems as though Republicans risk alienating Latino voters yet again if they don’t find some replacement or otherwise resolve their dispute.

At the very least, though, this announcement from the RNC is likely to play very well with the Republican base. As I’ve noted, the reputation of NBC News among Republicans is at times roughly comparable to the reputation of Fox News Channel among Democrats, and some on the right objected to the very idea of co-sponsoring a debate with that news organization even before Wednesday. In the wake of Wednesday’s debate debacle, though, it would have been next to impossible for the RNC to continue forward with the February 26th debate as planned without at least addressing the issues raised by the debate that was aired on NBC News’s sister network. How it all gets resolved is something only time will tell.

Update: It’s worth noting that a party canceling a debate over perceived ideological bias is not unprecedented. In 2007, the Democratic National Committee did just that with respect to a long-scheduled debate that was set to air on Fox News Channel.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
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. Scott says:

    Why do I get the vision that these debates will evolve into something like Celebrity Jeopardy on Saturday Night Live. For $200: What is your name?

  2. Why do I get the vision that these debates will evolve into something like Celebrity Jeopardy on Saturday Night Live. For $200: What is your name?

    On some level, that would be awesome.

  3. Tyrell says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Exactly. I half expected to look up and see Richard Dawson or Groucho Marx on there asking the qustions.
    At one time NBC was well respected and trustworthy, a group of professionals. No more: the sun set on that organization long ago.

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    I think it was a mistake to have what are financial reporters moderating what is really a political event was a mistake. I think if anything it showed that Wall Street could be happy with a Wall Street friendly Hillary Clinton as any of the occupants of the Republican clown car.

  5. gVOR08 says:

    @Ron Beasley: Possibly true, but Hillary is far more likely to support Dodd-Frank than any R, and what I read says the bulk of the Wall Street money is going to Rs. We’ll see that change if it looks like Hillary is likely to win. No profit in bribing supporting a loser.

  6. C. Clavin says:

    Classic kill the messenger.
    The moderators were bad…but the candidates were worse.
    They were all standing there telling bald-faced lies. The problem with the moderators was that they weren’t prepared with facts and follow-ups….and that allowed the candidates…who didn’t like being called on their BS…to turn it around on them. As someone put it…what was coming from the candidates was a river of bull$hit.

  7. EddieInCA says:

    Several prominent news sources are pointing out that CNBC and Fox asked very similar questions:

    I think what happening here is very simple…

    “I’m not attacking you. But by asking you a substantive question that you’re not prepared to, or can’t, answer, you’re thinking of it as an attack.”

    It was outright soundbites that were fantasies. No real discussion of unemployment. No discussion of TPP. No discussion of actual Tax Policy specifics. No discussion of income inequality. No discussion of stagnant wages. No discussion of the student loan crisis. ETC. ETC. For a debate on economic policy, there was very little economics.

  8. sam says:

    “One problem that this decision presents for the RNC, of course, is that it cuts one of the nation’s most watched Spanish language news networks out of the debate process, at least for the moment.”

    I’m not altogether sure the RNC sees this as a problem.

  9. Scott says:

    A couple of things could come out of this mess:

    – The moderators will come very well prepared to back up their questions with facts

    – Or the moderators will be cowed and bullied

    – The moderators will come with a pissed off attitude and will push back on the candidates

    We’ll see how this turns out.

  10. stonetools says:

    Republican candidates:

    “The bad journalist asked me tough questions like how can my crazy tax plan add up and that almost made me make cry. Make the bad journalist go away, daddy! Make him go away!”

    Note that Anderson Cooper hit Hillary hard and nobody went running to the DNC to complain. Heck, I don’t remember Hillary even flinching. (One of the good things about Hillary is that she is at least battle hardened). The other Democratic candidates also handled tough questioning.
    Guess this underlined what we already know: that the Republican’s message can’t stand any kind of contact with objective, skeptical analysis. Outside the adoring circle of the Republican entertainment network, the Republicans’ plans and policies are indefensible.

  11. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @EddieInCA: For a debate on economic policy, there wasn’t very much policy either. Or debate. Or display of critical thinking skills. Or…

  12. Because I Can! says:

    Absolutely Genius! Show that your not prejudice by excluding the Hispanic News Chanel from participating.

  13. Just Me says:

    Please-the questions were for the most poorly asked, the moderators used a very condescending tone, the interrupted multiple times, and we’re arguing with each other over who got to ask the next question. This wasn’t a well moderated debate and stop pretending that it was. The CNN debate for the democrats at least we’re respectful to the candidates which these moderators were not.

    As for the debates themselves-it’s time to start winnowing out the candidates. Ten is just way too many and it feels more like a group press conference than a debate. Even a well asked question can’t be substantively answered in 30 seconds.

    I also have decided I pretty much hate panels of moderators-it often turns into the panelists becoming the focus rather than the candidates.

    My ideal moderator would be some unknown college debate moderator who is there to moderate debates.

  14. Tyrell says:

    @gVOR08: Dodd – Frank is another government overkill intrusion that will put huge expensive record keeping on small firms: a form that runs a few hundred pages *
    * See The Economist : “Too Big to Fail”

  15. Ken in NJ says:

    @Scott: A couple of things could come out of this mess:

    You left out

    – the moderators will behave as if the Republican candidates’ bullshit and fantasies were true, and will frame their questions accordingly, quickly moving out of the realm of reality and into what will be little more than an extended episode of the Hannity show

  16. Grewgills says:

    Computers and record keeping software are relatively cheap. We don’t live in 1954 anymore.

  17. Stonetools says:

    Please release my comment from moderation.