Despite Fox News' mockery of the Republican presidential front-runner, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus declined to criticize the cable network just before it was set to host the party's final debate before the Iowa caucuses.
Interviewed Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa, on Bloomberg Politics’ With All Due Respect, Priebus said he would consider it inappropriate for the party to mediate between the candidates and a network debate host.
“I don’t think it’s our place to get in the middle of it,” Priebus said. “The reality is the candidates wanted to negotiate on their own with networks, and that’s what they’ve wanted to do and that’s what we let them do.”
He said the party did not have a responsibility to ensure that Republican voters hear from the front-runner on the debate stage.
On Tuesday, Fox News issued a press release mocking Donald Trump, who is leading Republican polls, for his sensitivity to what the candidate deemed “unfair” treatment by the network. In response, Trump pulled out of the debate, and will host a competing event in Des Moines Thursday night instead. (Bloomberg Politics will stream the rally live at 9 p.m. ET)
Priebus walked a careful line during the interview, repeatedly declining to offer judgment. “If the candidates want to compete in the debate, they can. If it’s in their interest not to, then who am I to say?”
The RNC did, however, recently censure the New Hampshire Union Leader and National Review by removing them as sponsors of debates after they published anti-Trump editorials and articles. Priebus drew a distinction Thursday that underlined the difference between an isolated press release and a newspaper editorial or special issue. “I think it’s okay for particular reporters in some publications to have a tough article about a particular candidate, but when an actual publication takes a publication-wide position,” he said, that was different.
In January, the RNC announced that it was dropping NBC as the host of a February Republican debate following complaints by the candidates over the conduct of the moderators during the third GOP debate in Boulder, Colorado, in October.