OTR Interviews

RNC chair on GOP debate debacle: CNBC betrayed us

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus goes 'On the Record' on the tumult surrounding the CNBC debate and battling grumbling within his own party over RNC's handling of the controversy

 

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," October 30, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Right now, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus is here to go On the Record. Good evening, Mr. Chairman.

REINCE PRIEBUS, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Good evening, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I have seen your letter to Andrew Lack, President of NBC News. And it says the handling of that debate, CNBC, was conducted in bad faith. Why do you say that? Those are fighting words.

PRIEBUS: If you go through the letter and anyone can look at it at GOP.com or anywhere else, I would imagine, on the Internet. The truth is that we were betrayed, and I think the candidates were betrayed by CNBC, and we need to look out for the candidates in these future debates. But the truth is that what they promised was straight up finance, it's all spelled out you there in the letter. And that wasn't delivered. They prom missed that they would have open-ended question up front kind of like a pseudo opening statement about freedom, finance, something within the realm of CNBC's mission that didn't happen.

Instead it was about your greatest weakness. The questions were argumentative, petty, putdowns in many cases, purposely pitting candidates against each other, everything that they promised not to do, everything from the beginning to the end. And so, look, CNBC is an arm of NBC. I'm not going to allow us to move forward until we communicate with the candidates. Getting obviously some serious conversations of what it is that all of the candidates can agree on. And then take those suggestions back to the networks to make sure that what happened two days ago doesn't happen again.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, in all candor, I thought the first question was your weakness was a silly one to begin with, but at the very least I sort of expected since it was CNBC. It was a business debate and it would have been at least what your business weakness is? Why do you think they strayed off business into other topics?

PRIEBUS: Well, if you look at their release, and again go online and look at the letter. We spell out clearly what CNBC themselves promised in this debate. We have contracts. This is not like we move forward willy-nilly and see whatever happens and, you know, move on. These are things that have been agreed to. When you make agreements and they are not followed, obviously.

VAN SUSTEREN: So what does NBC do? I mean, how does it get back on track now with the RNC?

PRIEBUS: Well, look, I mean, obviously we have to -- our job is to standup for our candidates. And so the first thing that has to happen is talking to the candidates. See what it is that they want and what we need to advocate for. So that's the first step. I mean, it's all about, obviously, putting the candidates in the best light possible, so communicating with them is always first. But look, I mean you saw across the board most of the candidates, I think I saw some anyway were praising the fact that we did this. And they agreed with it. So, look, we're going to be on offense in regard to these debates.

And what happened the other day was a betrayal. It was embarrassing. And, look, like I said the other day, you know, the fact is, we have to protect these candidates moving forward, and obviously today was a big step in that direction.

VAN SUSTEREN: A number of the campaigns are getting together this weekend to discuss the CNBC debate. Are you part of this discussion? Are they doing these themselves?

PRIEBUS: Well, look, we are in communication, Greta, all day long with the campaigns. I won't go through the entire list, but every single campaign almost, you know, every day, including today, including the candidates. This is about what I believe -- and I don't know how many campaigns, but this is about -- from what was reported in Politico, by the way, which isn't what the narrative is now. But what's reported in Politico is that the campaigns are getting together, some of them to see what they can agree on, so they can make a list of things they can agree on to go advocate for on behalf of the campaigns to the networks.

As can you imagine, with 14 candidates, not all 14 actually agree on what they want.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is it enough for NBC to say we're sorry, it won't happen in February when you come back to NBC, that this is not CNBC, or do you want more?

PRIEBUS: Look, personally, I want more and I'm sure, you know, we're going to talk to the candidates to see where they are at. But I would imagine that moving forward, after the other night, it's going to take a lot more than just hey, just trust us, we will do a great job. Because of what happened the other day was a breach of trust.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Well, you know On the Record, we're here every night Monday through Friday at 7:00 p.m. If you want to come back and talk to us, you are welcome any time, Mr. Chairman, nice to talk to you, sir.

PRIEBUS: Thank you, Greta.