Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson are both threatening to boycott the next Republican presidential debate if CNBC, who is hosting the event, and the Republican National Committee do not change the stated format of the event.
“Neither Mr. Trump or Dr. Carson will participate in your debate if it is longer than 120 minutes including commercials and does not include opening and closing statements,” the letter, obtained exclusively by NBC News and signed by both candidates, reads.
The campaigns sent a joint letter Thursday afternoon to CNBC’s Washington bureau warning they won’t won’t participate in the network’s debate on Oct. 28 in Boulder, Colo., unless it lasts no longer than two hours and includes both opening and closing statements by the candidates.
“The criteria that was outlined by CNBC was never discussed with any of the candidates or the campaigns,” Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told The New York Times. “So what CNBC did was send out a memo and said, ‘Here’s the criteria as you have approved them’ and that went out to all the campaigns. We said we never agreed to this criteria.”
Meanwhile, Ed Brookover, a Carson campaign aide, told The Hill that opening and closing statements are vital to ensuring every candidate is heard on a stage that will likely include 10 candidates. He noted that during one stretch in the last debate, moderated by CNN, Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) went more than 30 minutes without having a chance to speak.
“It’s the fairest way to ensure that any candidate has an opportunity to be heard both early and late in the debate and not to rely on the good graces of the moderators,” he said.
Trump, was very clear that he was unhappy with the three-hour length of the CNN debate and wants to ensure that the next contest isn’t allowed to drag on.
For its part CNBC is indicating it is open to adjusting its debate criteria after receiving the letter from Trump and Carson. Make no mistake about it the network does not want a debate without Trump and Carson driving the ratings.
This afternoon the network released a statement, CNBC spokesman Brian Steel said the calls were just the beginning of a conversation with the campaigns.
“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,” Steel said. “We started a dialogue yesterday with all of the campaigns involved and we will certainly take the candidate’s views on the format into consideration as we finalize the debate structure.”
Expect that Trump and Carson’s demands will be met and that the CNBC debate will have both opening and closing statements with the program lasting two hours.