LAKEWOOD, Colo. — GOP presidential frontrunner Ben Carson is taking the Republican war on the debates to the next level.
Carson held a media availability prior to his speech at Colorado Christian University on Thursday morning and declared that he will be “reaching out to all the campaigns” to work on establishing a new “format” for Republican debates. He said this step is necessary because the current debate process is based on “gotcha questions.”
“I know the first question is always going to be ‘How did you like the debate last night?’” Carson declared as he began his press conference. “And the answer is, I think maybe it has the possibility of being a very important moment in American politics, because it so clearly demonstrates the need for a change in format. Debates are supposed to be established to help the people get to know the candidates, and get to know what’s behind them, and what their thinking process is, what their philosophy is.”
Carson described the current format as “silly.”
“What it’s turned into is a ‘gotcha!’ That’s silly and that’s not really helpful for anybody,” he said. “I’ve asked my staff to reach out to the other campaigns to talk about a change in format.”
Carson explained that he’d like to see a policy-focused debate where candidates would be “able to lay out a plan for something, and then be questioned about it, and then go to the next one, have them lay theirs out and then be questioned about it.” He said his ideal format would involve “longer statements and answers to questions” as well as “moderators who are interested in actually getting the facts and not gotcha questions.”
Asked whether he would participate in future debates if the format is not changed, Carson did not provide a clear answer.
“Well, we will always have the conversation first,” he said. “I don’t see any reason whatever right now to be posturing.”
Carson’s push for a new format comes after several of the Republican candidates criticized the moderators of Wednesday night’s debate both on stage and off. Following the event, which was hosted by CNBC, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said the network should be “ashamed.”
“While I was proud of our candidates and the way they handled tonight’s debate, the performance by the CNBC moderators was extremely disappointing and did a disservice to their network, our candidates and voters,” Priebus said.
After the debate, Yahoo News witnessed a tense exchange between one of the moderators, CNBC anchor John Harwood, and RNC chief strategist Sean Spicer. The pair faced off in the spin room, where candidates and their surrogates speak to reporters, and Spicer detailed some of the party’s grievances.
He noted that multiple media outlets, including nonpartisan publications such as the Washington Post, covered criticism of CNBC’s handling of the debate. As Harwood tried to defend the moderators, Spicer pointed to a question about a newspaper editorial suggesting that Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., should resign because he has missed votes while campaigning as evidence the debate was not “balanced.”
Harwood began pointing out that another candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, also criticized Rubio for missing votes. Spicer cut Harwood off.
“Look, you’re asking what I’m saying. … Every question was about — was sort of like it was not framed in a way to have a discussion of what to do. It was more to attack,” Spicer said. “It was not a ‘Tell me how you’re going to solve these problems.’ … I just — I don’t think it was a debate. It was an attempt to sort of have a tough interview.”
After the pair parted ways, Yahoo News attempted to ask Harwood about the controversy. He said he did not have time to discuss it.
The toughest question for Carson during the debate concerned his ties to Mannatech, a nutritional supplement company that came under regulatory scrutiny after claiming its products cure cancer. Carson described the question about his “involvement” with the company as “total propaganda” and insisted he “didn’t have an involvement with them.”
“That is total propaganda. And this is what happens in our society — total propaganda. I did a couple speeches for them. I did speeches for other people. They were paid speeches,” Carson said, adding, “It is absolutely absurd to say that I had any kind of relationship with them. Do I take the product? Yes. I think it’s a good product.“
Along with making paid speeches for Mannatech, Carson appeared in what Politifact described as “Mannatech-produced videos that appear to be promotional materials.” At his press conference on Thursday, Carson was asked whether he feels the paid speeches constituted an endorsement. He said he was not paid for the videos and suggested the speeches were not evidence of any “special relationship” with the company.
“I speak for all kinds of groups. You go back and look through the history of the speeches. I was … with the Washington Speakers Bureau, probably their most prolific speaker,” Carson explained. “You name the group, I’ve spoken for them. It doesn’t mean that I’m endorsing them, doesn’t mean that I have any special relationship with them.”
Yahoo News asked Carson whether he felt the Mannatech questions were a “gotcha.” We also asked if he could describe the difference between questions that are tough but fair and these “gotcha” queries.
“Yes, the questions about Mannatech are definitely gotcha questions,” Carson said. “There’s no truth, you know, and all they would have to do, because I know people know how to investigate, they could easily go back and find out that I don’t have any formal relationships with Mannatech. They can easily find out that any videos that were done were not paid videos, were things that I truly believed and thought about. That is easy to do.”
Carson, who has said he believes the media has a “secular progressive” bias, went on to explain that the media would handle the Mannatech issue differently if it had another “agenda.” He also elaborated on what he sees as “gotcha coverage.”
“If they were, you know, looking for — had another agenda, then they go back, say, ‘See, we went, investigated all that, and there’s nothing to it.’ But if they have a ‘gotcha’ agenda, they kind of conveniently ignore all the facts and try to influence public opinion,” Carson said of the Mannatech coverage. “The good thing is the public of America is waking up so fast that they have come to recognize when people are in the ‘gotcha’ mode. I mean, all you have to do is go and Google my name. Every morning there’s 10 articles, ‘Carson said this, and he said this, and 30 years ago he did this.’ It’s just craziness. You know? … It would be comical if it weren’t so sad.”