RNC dumps NBC for February debate. CNN gets the nod

Last night an email alert from the RNC showed up in many of our inboxes informing us that there was a major change to the upcoming Republican debate schedule. The February contest in Houston, Texas was no longer going to be hosted by NBC News, with the honors going to CNN instead. Going one step further, the RNC has officially “severed ties” with the Peacock Network. (Politico)

The Republican National Committee officially severed ties on Monday with NBC for what was supposed to be a Feb. 26 Republican primary debate in Houston. Instead, CNN will host the debate in Houston on Thursday, Feb. 25, five days before Super Tuesday.

The committee voted via conference call Monday after negotiations with NBC failed, two sources familiar with the call confirmed. The RNC initially suspended the relationship with NBC on Oct. 30, following a debate on CNBC that angered many of the campaigns and the RNC for the network’s handling of the debate format and the moderators’ line of questioning.

At the time, NBC said it looked forward to working in “good faith to resolve this matter with the Republican Party.”

Those “good faith” negotiations apparently didn’t go anywhere. That’s probably not much of a surprise given what a disaster on wheels the last CNBC debate turned out to be. You may recall that Ed described the sordid affair as, an embarrassment that should be studied in journalism schools as a bald-faced example of media bias and hostility.

That’s putting it mildly, speaking as someone who sat through that debacle. Over at RedState, Leon Wolf noted that NBC really brought this on themselves and it’s going to hit them in the wallet as well as damaging their remaining credibility.

Hard to say that this is the wrong move for the RNC. There isn’t a trustworthy NBC property on television right now, and none of the candidates will be well served by fielding dumb, gotcha questions from openly biased moderators. By February 28th, the field will be winnowed down to the serious candidates, and there’s no use exposing one of them to NBC’s liberal stupidity.

Meanwhile, the GOP debates have been a ratings bonanza for every network that has carried them, due largely to the presence of Trump. The CNBC debate was by far the highest ratings that network ever received, and given NBC’s struggles (particularly in the increasingly vital live television arena), they stand to lose a pretty significant advertising windfall over the decision.

That’s no exaggeration. While CNBC may not have rung up the same numbers as CNN and Fox, the more than 14 million viewers they pulled in still registered as the biggest ratings the network has ever seen for anything and by a wide margin. How significant is that for the network? On the average day they frequently struggle to attract 200K viewers over an entire 24 hour period. Their political news counterpart, MSNBC, gets anemic numbers for their prime time line-up at best. Losing this relationship with the RNC for the remainder of the primary season is a big hit to the bottom line.

The remaining question which is likely being sorted out right now is who will be manning the helm for CNN now that they’ve picked up this windfall. Our company (Salem Communications) is still involved so we’ll probably see Hugh Hewitt, and Telemundo (an NBC Universal property) is still invited so they’ll have somebody on hand. But who will run the show? Jake Tapper did a pretty good job on his first turn, but Wolf Blitzer is always something of a disappointment. If they go any deeper into their anchor desk bench they could lose the accolades they gathered earlier in the season. I expect we’ll have that answer in the next week or so.