There may be a few questions for Reince Priebus from the campaigns too, after last night’s debate debacle, but the RNC chair went on offense immediately afterward. Priebus told reporters in the spin room that “CNBC should be ashamed” of its performance last night, although Priebus hailed the Republican candidates for “sticking together” under fire:
But is CNBC ashamed? Not yet, anyway. The Hill’s Ben Kamisar reports that the debate moderators decamped to the only friendly turf they could find — sister channel MSNBC — where Chris Matthews assured them that their critics were just meany conservatives looking to pick a fight:
“There were a lot of conservatives before the debate who were urging them to go hard after the media, and that’s what they did,” moderator John Harwood said during an interview late Wednesday night on MSNBC’s “Hardball.”
“Some of those questions, especially considering the prescriptions they are offering, are questions that feel hostile to those Republican candidates.” …
Harwood and fellow moderator Sharon Epperson criticized the candidates for obfuscating the facts. They specifically mentioned Sen. Marco Rubio’s (Fla.) accusation that Harwood mischaracterized his tax plan, which Harwood said was not true, as well as Trump telling moderator Becky Quick that he had never criticized Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg when the criticism is included on his campaign site.
Harwood argued that a Tax Foundation analysis of Rubio’s tax plan showed that it favored the wealthy more than the poor, and Rubio responded by reminding Harwood that he had to correct a similar statement earlier in the month. Harwood vehemently denied that, which makes this a little … embarrassing:
CORRECTING earlier tweet: Tax Foundation says Rubio benefits lowest 10% proportionally more (55.9) than top 1% (27.9%). Avg for all: 17.8%.
— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) October 14, 2015
Despite this, Harwood still refuses to correct the record, although Matthews says it’s not necessary:
“Hardball” host Chris Matthews came to the moderators’ defense to close the interview, calling the pair “totally straight reporters who had to take the crap” from candidates.
Or make up crap, one or the other.
Speaking of taking crap, expect some to be tossed at Priebus in the next couple of days, too. Plenty of people already wonder why the RNC allows so much control to the networks for these debates, and last night’s debacle was the new poster debate for those concerns. The answer is that the GOP wants to reach those audiences, and on paper the CNBC debate fits directly into the focus on economic issues. The risk paid off at CNN with Jake Tapper, and Fox News is a must anyway, but the gamble didn’t work out so well at CNBC.
Perhaps the answer should be that the RNC — and the DNC as well — should take control of their own debates by using alternate methods of broadcasting. Broadband has a wide enough footprint in the US to make that a viable option, and that would give the GOP the ability to choose moderators from somewhere other than the New York Times. People who want to engage in these debates can find ways to access them, and the political media will cover them no matter how they get broadcast. It might be time to explore new vistas than the old alphabet-soup broadcasters and cablers.