The RNC’s move was an intentional and unsubtle signal to presidential campaigns who have been in open conflict with the committee: We have your back. The move came just hours after POLITICO reported that the Trump-Carson-Graham-Jindal powwow would take place on Sunday — and the main topic would be benching the RNC and negotiating terms with the networks either as a group or individually.
Trouble had been brewing for a while. In the weeks leading up to the CNBC debate, there were intense behind-the-scenes discussions between the campaigns, the RNC and CNBC. At issue: the network’s refusal to allow opening and closing statements. Several campaigns — including Trump’s — threatened to pull out if they didn’t get them. CNBC ultimately backed off, telling the RNC — which was negotiating on the campaigns’ behalf — it would allow an open-ended opening statement.
But CNBC reversed course as soon as the lights went on. “In 30 seconds, without telling us that you try too hard or that you’re a perfectionist,” co-moderator Carl Quintanilla began, “what is your biggest weakness and what are you doing to address it?” The debate went downhill from there, as the candidates openly bristled at the questions and whipped up the crowd against the hosts.