The Republican National Committee is striking back.
In a letter released Friday afternoon, RNC chair Reince Priebus said that the RNC is suspending its presidential debate partnership with NBC “pending further discussion between the Republican National Committee (RNC) and our presidential campaigns.” Priebus cited CNBC’s handling of Wednesday’s debate as the reason for the announcement, calling questions “inaccurate or downright offensive.
“While debates are meant to include tough questions and contrast candidates’ visions and policies for the future of America, CNBC’s moderators engaged in a series of ‘gotcha’ questions, petty and mean-spirited in tone, and designed to embarrass our candidates,” the RNC chairman wrote.
The announcement follows widespread criticism of CNBC’s hosting of the prime-time debate on Wednesday, including criticism from Ted Cruz during the debate itself. In his letter on Friday, Priebus was quick to defer to the campaigns, saying: “We simply cannot continue with NBC without full consultation with our campaigns.”
The RNC is scheduled to hold a debate on Feb. 26, 2016 in collaboration with NBC, Telemundo, and National Review at the University of Houston. Priebus wrote that the RNC still plans to have a debate that night “and will ensure that National Review remains part of it.”
NBC reacted to the news in a statement Friday afternoon: “This is a disappointing development,” the statement reads. “However, along with our debate broadcast partners at Telemundo we will work in good faith to resolve this matter with the Republican Party.”
In a statement, Donald Trump’s campaign said it supports the RNC’s decision and “look[s] forward to pursuing alternatives along with the RNC to ensure candidates are given ample opportunity to outline their vision for the future of our country.”
“We hope networks and future moderators realize that what happened in Colorado should never have occurred,” Sergio Gor, a spokesman for Sen. Rand Paul, told National Journal in an email.
Alice Stewart, a spokeswoman for Mike Huckabee’s campaign, noted that the campaigns have been having conversations amongst themselves since debate night about how to “make these debates more fair and substantive.” Politico reported Thursday that the Republican presidential campaigns plan to meet Sunday night in Washington D.C.—without anyone from the RNC present—to discuss how debates can be improved.
On Wednesday, Cruz stopped mid-debate to complain about the quality of the questions: “The questions asked in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media,” Cruz said.
The full text of Priebus’s letter, which is addressed to NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack, is posted on the RNC website.
This story has been updated.