Trump, Carson threaten boycott of GOP debate unless demands are met

GOP presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson sent a joint letter to CNBC threatening to boycott the upcoming debate unless the time allotted was reduced from 3 to 2 hours and all candidates were allowed an opening and closing statement.

The Hill:

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, meanwhile, 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 us it was imperative that the time be changed to 120 minutes,” Lewandowski told the Times.

“Until we have this criteria specifically laid out, it is difficult to participate.”

Lewandowski has urged the Republican National Committee (RNC) to intervene in the dispute.

Brian Steel, a spokesman for CNBC, told The Hill in a statement that the network typically eschews opening statements "to allow more time to address the critical issues that matter most."

"We started a dialogue yesterday with all of the campaigns involved and we will certainly take the candidates’ views on the format into consideration as we finalize the debate structure," Steel said.

The boycott threat from Trump and Carson, who hold the top two spots in virtually all polling of the Republican race, comes after a handful of other campaigns complained about the debate arrangement on a telephone call with the network and the RNC.  

The uproar started, according to one GOP campaign source familiar with the calls, when CNBC told the campaign representatives that there wouldn't be any opening or closing statements for the contest.

"People realized we got the short end of the stick when the Democrats had a 2 minute opening and a 90 second closing [during their debate], so they had three and a half minutes to a 15 million person audience of an infomercial," the source said.

"They get a commercial, we get ‘The Hunger Games.’ "

While Trump's and Carson's motives may not be exactly altruistic, standing up to the networks who seek to dictate how the GOP race will play out is long past due.  The formats of the debates so far have been detrimental to all candidates, especially the time allotted, which doesn't insure that all candidates receive a fair shake anyway.  Three hours is a long time for anyone to stand under klieg lights in front of millions of people and perhaps receive just a few minutes of attention. 

But Carly Fiorina tried to use the controversy to her advantage:

Carly Fiorina said on "The Kelly File" tonight that her fellow Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson are complaining about the length of the upcoming CNBC debate because they're worried about answering questions for three hours.

She said that with ten presidential candidates, that actually isn't that much time, and the American people want more debates.

Fiorina noted that Trump and Carson also requested opening and closing statements at the debate.

"Prepared statements are what politicians do. Honestly, here are two outsiders, supposedly, Donald Trump and Ben Carson. They sound a lot like politicians tonight to me," Fiorina said.

Fiorina is looking to get her campaign back on track after a surge in interest following the last debate didn't pan out into concrete results.  If she's trying to position herself as the only "true" outsider, as she appears to be doing here, she will be wasting her breath. 

Can 10 candidates really have a fair shot in two hours?  They can, if the moderator keeps the questions short and concise and candidates are held to the time limit on their responses.  And if the debate is going to be two hours, there shouldn't be opening and closing statements.  Fully 25% of the time allotted would be taken up by the statements, leaving the other 8 candidates out in the cold. 

I'd hate to see Trump and Carson refuse to participate, but it should be the candidates who develop the format for the debate, not a TV network.

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