In a joint letter to CNBC’s Washington bureau chief, the billionaire businessman and the retired neurosurgeon told the hosting network they would not appear at the October 28 debate, unless it was capped at two hours, with commercials, and the candidates were allowed to speak directly to the camera at its opening and close.
Ed Brookover, a senior Carson campaign strategist, said the campaigns were caught off-guard when CNBC sent them an email, this week, outlining debate rules, to which the candidates had not agreed.
The agenda included two hours of debate, plus four commercial breaks and no opening or closing statements.
“We thought that the only way to make sure that candidates are heard early and late was not to rely on the moderators,” he said, referring to the push for opening and closing statements.
The letter came after a heated call between the campaigns and the Republican National Committee over the debate’s format.
Neither Trump campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, nor Trump campaign spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, immediately responded to requests for comment. But Trump took to Twitter to express his anger.
“The @GOP should not agree to the ridiculous debate terms that @CNBC is asking unless there is a major benefit to the party,” he said.
He accused the network of lengthening the debate to sell more ads. Trump has complained often about the second debate, hosted by CNN, which stretched on for a marathon three hours.
CNBC spokesman, Brian Steel, said that the network was aiming to host “the most substantive debate possible,” but was open to changing the format. “Our practice, in the past, has been to forego opening statements to allow more time to address the critical issues that matter most to the American people,” he said.
“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 finalise the debate structure,” Steel said.
Trump and Carson have developed a unique rapport, with little fighting between the two, despite the fact that Carson has been gaining on Trump in opinion polls.
The topic of debates has been contentious throughout the campaign, with both Democrats and Republicans sparring over who is included on stage and how much time they’re allotted.