Carson was unhappy with the CNBC Republican debate the night before, which he said was filled with “gotcha” questions designed to trip up the participants.
“Debates are supposed to be established to help the people get to know the candidate,” Carson said at a post-debate news conference, The Post reported. “What it’s turned into is — gotcha! That’s silly.”
CNN reported that Carson said flatly that the candidates “need a change of format” for the upcoming debates, though it was not clear what that would entail. His campaign released a survey to supporters asking for potential ideas.
Carson’s campaign manager, Barry Bennett, told the Washington Examiner’s Byron York that if the Republican candidates banded together, they could successfully lobby for “wholesale change” to the format.
York quoted Bennett saying he would reach out to the rival campaign managers to begin the effort. He cited the leaders of real-estate mogul Donald Trump’s and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina’s campaigns as people with whom he already had relationships.
“I will call those guys and say, listen, we can choose our own network and our own format. We don’t need to be led around like prize steers,” Bennett said. “I think at this point, if five or six of us get together, who generate the largest portion of the audience, we can force change.”
Carson was particularly unhappy with a debate question and multiple follow-ups pressing him on his relationship with Mannatech, a controversial nutritional-supplement company. The audience eventually started booing the moderators, which Carson subsequently said he was pleased with.
“They obviously had an agenda,” Carson said of CNBC during a subsequent Fox News interview. “But the thing that was really encouraging to me is that the audience was able to pick up on the bias and they were able to act accordingly.”
Carson was hardly the only candidate to have complaints about the CNBC debate. At various points during and after the event, many of the Republican contenders blasted the questions for being overly negative or otherwise inappropriate.
Even those who had strong performances — like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) — openly griped.
“The moderators just didn’t do their job last night, in a number of areas,” Christie said Thursday on “Morning Joe.” “Not only were the questions snarky, and divisive, and non-substantive — they were just biased. The questions were biased. But on top of that, they didn’t do their job in term of controlling the debate either, and it became something of a free-for-all.”
“You go onto a network that specialises in economic news, and you get questions like some of the ones that were asked last night. And the real frustration begins to bubble over,” Rubio added in “Fox & Friends” interview.
Even the Republican National Committee, which organised the debate schedule with the various host networks, issued a fiery and unusual statement ripping the format.
“CNBC should be ashamed of themselves,” the RNC’s chairman, Reince Priebus, wrote in a Thursday email to supporters. “The RNC won’t stand for it. We will fight to protect our candidates. I’m asking you to join me. Let’s put the mainstream media on notice. I want to send a message to moderators of upcoming debates that any bias won’t be tolerated.”
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