CNBC agrees to Trump demand for two-hour Republican primary debate
NEW YORK — CNBC has agreed to limit its forthcoming Republican primary debate to two hours and allow for opening and/or closing statements, acquiescing to the demands of Donald Trump and other GOP campaigns, CNN has confirmed.
The Republican National Committee began calling the campaigns on Friday morning to inform them that CNBC had agreed in principal to limit the debate to two hours, including commercials, and to allow for opening and/or closing statements, according to two sources with knowledge of the decision.
“They said those conditions are ‘all but certain’,” as they still needed all the campaigns to sign off on the new format, a source with one of the campaigns told CNN.
RNC spokesperson Sean Spicer told CNN, “We are having an ongoing conversation with CNBC and the candidates” and that the final format should be determined soon.
The move comes after Trump and Ben Carson threatened to pull out of the faceoff in Boulder, Colorado, 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.
CNBC declined to comment on Friday, but in a statement Thursday said, “Our goal is to host the most substantive debate possible. Our practice in the past has been to forego opening statements to allow more time to address the critical issues that matter most to the American people. We started a dialogue yesterday with all of the campaigns involved and we will certainly take the candidates’ views on the format into consideration as we finalize the debate structure.”
Carly Fiorina, seemingly unfazed by CNBC’s original parameters for the debate, criticized both Trump and Carson in an interview with Fox News on Thursday night.
“Well, I think apparently they’re worried about answering questions for three hours,” Fiorina told host Megyn Kelly. “For heaven sakes, we have ten candidates on stage. I don’t think three hours is a long time.”
“They also apparently asked for prepared statements,” Fiorina continued. “You know, prepared statements are what politicians do. … So, honestly, here are two outsiders supposedly. Donald Trump and Ben Carson — they sound a lot like politicians tonight to me.”
Trump had taken to Twitter on Thursday to protest the terms of the debate.
“The @GOP should not agree to the ridiculous debate terms that @CNBC is asking unless there is a major benefit to the party,” he wrote.
“.@CNBC is pushing the @GOP around by asking for extra time (and no criteria) in order to sell more commercials,” he continued. “Why is the @GOP being asked to do a debate that is so much longer than the just-aired and very boring #DemDebate?”
Early Friday morning, Trump tweeted that CNBC had agreed to limit the Oct. 28 debate to two hours.
“Fantastic news for all, especially the millions of people who will be watching!” he wrote.