Dec 2, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Newsmax feuds with RNC over GOP debates

RNC chair Ronna McDaniel, in a light blue jacket and holding a microphone

RNC chair Ronna McDaniel at the second Republican presidential primary debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., in September. Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

Newsmax is clashing with the Republican National Committee after the conservative, Trump-friendly channel wasn't able to co-sponsor one of the first four GOP presidential primary debates.

Why it matters: The dispute is a view into the delicate and at times fraught negotiations over the debates, which can propel or depress a candidacy — and add prestige and viewers to networks that sponsor them.

Driving the news: After Fox News and Fox Business hosted the first two debates, the RNC proposed that Newsmax co-sponsor the third debate as the junior partner to ABC News, four people familiar with the matter told Axios.

  • Newsmax executives were wary of being a junior partner with a mainstream media outlet, and thought the $2 million the RNC required Newsmax spend on the event was unnecessarily expensive.
  • The RNC also approached Newsmax about being the primary sponsor for the upcoming fourth GOP debate — which will be Wednesday in Tuscaloosa, Ala. — and would have required Newsmax to spend about $4 million producing the debate.

Newsmax execs felt that the RNC had moved the goalposts with the larger figure, but an email obtained by Axios shows that Newsmax was aware the costs would change based on the nature of the sponsors' partnership.

  • The Newsmax execs fumed when the RNC announced last month that NewsNation would sponsor the fourth debate; Newsmax was still looking for an additional sponsor to split the costs.

What they're saying: "Since the beginning of the process the RNC under [chair] Ronna McDaniel has consistently lied and obfuscated to Newsmax about us hosting a debate, so it's clear to us the RNC's goal has been to make sure anti-Trump media control the GOP debates."

  • The RNC and ABC News declined to comment.

Some Newsmax hosts have complained on-air about not being the sponsor of a GOP debate.

  • Host Robert Finnerty said in October: "The RNC gave the third presidential debate to NBC News and I'm not going to say they gave it to NBC News instead of Newsmax, but they gave it to NBC News instead of Newsmax — and it's just it's bizarre to me, because these are GOP primaries."

Between the lines: Newsmax's feud with the RNC is part of a larger conflict in which conservative candidates and media distrust mainstream outlets such as ABC, NBC News, CNN and others.

  • Some Republicans believe that mainstream outlets shouldn't be involved in any GOP primary debates, but the RNC has prioritized reaching audiences beyond the conservative channels — and tapping into the deeper pockets of larger news organizations.
  • Earlier this year, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' team pushed back against NBC News or CNN sponsoring one of the debates.
  • This week, DeSantis told Newsmax's Eric Bolling that he believed the channel should host a debate.

The conflict also reflects some right-wing conservatives' wariness of the RNC, which they see as part of a more moderate, establishment brand of conservatism.

  • Businessman and GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy has been particularly critical of McDaniel, and called on her to resign after the disappointing election results for Republicans in November.
  • Ramaswamy launched a website called FireRonna.com.
  • He also has called for a fifth GOP primary debate to be live-streamed on X, and moderated by former Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

What's next: The GOP hasn't announced any debates after the one in Alabama, but there could be more before the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire's primary in January.

  • Next week, RNC officials will consider a proposal to allow candidates to attend debates not organized or sanctioned by the RNC, The Washington Post reported.
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