GOP Drops MSNBC as Presidential Debate Host

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MSNBC was noticeably missing from the list of television networks that will host 2016 GOP presidential primary debates released Friday by Republicans.

Fox will host the bulk of the debates, which will run from August through February, and its affiliate, Fox Business, will also sponsor a forum, the Republican National Committee said.

Republicans want more conservative media outlets to help shape the televised debates after many party members complained that during the 2011-12 debates, some networks’ moderators were too aggressive or hostile toward candidates. Also, the RNC is cutting the number of debates to nine, down from about two dozen in the last election, in an effort to avoid the circus-like atmosphere that many felt hurt the party’s nominating process.

CNN will host three debates, even as conservatives in the last election criticized moderator Candy Crowley’s line of questioning for Mitt Romney. Some operatives also assailed ABC’s George Stephanopoulos for his questions related to contraception. ABC and CBS will host one debate each. Affiliated networks NBC/Telemundo (broadcast) and CNBC (cable) will each host their own debates. Unlike 2012, MSNBC will not host a debate.

Republicans have had notable clashes with the left-leaning MSNBC over the past couple of years. The network had to apologize to RNC Chairman Reince Priebus for an MSNBC staffer’s tweet saying “the right wing will hate” a Cheerios commercial featuring a biracial family, suggesting conservatives are prejudiced. Before he received the apology, Priebus, who has frequently appeared on the network, said he would boycott it.

In August 2013, the RNC voted to ban NBC and CNN from hosting debates over the networks’ plans to air a Hillary Clinton miniseries and documentary, respectively. NBC eventually canceled the projects and the CNN documentary’s director backed out. In an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Priebus said he wouldn’t want someone like host Mika Brzezinski to moderate a GOP debate “because you’re not actually interested in the future of the Republican Party and our nominees … I have to choose moderators that are actually interested in the Republican Party and our nominees.”

MSNBC hasn’t yet complained about being left out. A source at the cable network told RCP that the debate it held last election cycle was branded as an NBC news debate, moderated by Brian Williams, and aired on MSNBC. Williams moderated another prime time debate that was carried on NBC, as did David Gregory, then-moderator of “Meet the Press.” CNBC also sponsored a debate last cycle. It is not yet clear if MSNBC will air this cycle’s NBC and CNBC debates.

The MSNBC source also noted that Fox News didn’t host a debate during the 2008 Democratic primaries. That’s true, but that wasn’t the original plan. Candidates boycotted that debate over a joke the network’s chairman made about Barack Obama. The Nevada Democratic Party, a cosponsor, canceled the debate. 

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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