Exclusive – Reince Priebus: ‘I Was Talking to CNN’ About Getting Fiorina on Debate Stage Before Her Campaign Went Public

Presidential Hopefuls Attend Southern Republican Leadership Conference
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Washington, DC

Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Reince Priebus told Breitbart News in his first interview since CNN announced new criteria that will ensure former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina is on the next debate’s main stage that he in fact was working with CNN to solve the problem before Fiorina’s campaign went public on the matter.

CNN announced new criteria on Tuesday evening that would ensure Fiorina makes the main debate stage, rather than the undercard one. The network’s old criteria happened to include polls from prior to the first debate, which could have undercut Fiorina despite her clear rise in the polls.

“I think it’s a great change, and I think that it’s important because if you’re going to have a debate with the top candidates they have to be in the debate,” Priebus told Breitbart News. “CNN understood that, so obviously they made the change and I applaud them for it.”

Technically speaking, it’s the networks—in this case, with the Reagan Library debate, CNN—that make the criteria for who gets on the debate stage and who doesn’t. CNN initially resisted making the change, and Fiorina’s campaign went public about this concern last week. Fiorina’s campaign and her allies also aggressively fought with the RNC, which little did they know was actually secretly already negotiating with CNN to push for the change.

“We’ve been on top of it,” Priebus told Breitbart News. “We were always on top of it. The idea that we weren’t on top of this is just ridiculous. I think CNN did the right thing, but they also did the right thing by putting out criteria early—it’s just that in hindsight, when looking back at the criteria and the polling being the way that it was, they made the change.”

“They [Fiorina’s campaign] went public on Wednesday,” Priebus also said. “I was talking to CNN before that.”

He noted that for some time he has been pushing CNN to make the changes.

“We have been working with CNN—and CNN has been working on this—for quite a while,” Priebus said. “I think that there are some people who jumped the gun to throw the RNC under the bus, which I don’t think was appropriate. The fact of the matter is we want a fair process and we want to make sure the candidates are representative in the top tier debate, and this is a change that is going to help make that happen.”

When pressed further on this point—and reminded that RNC chief strategist and communications director Sean Spicer did publicly defend the original CNN criteria in Politico when Fiorina’s campaign went public—Priebus said that Fiorina’s campaign should not have gone public.

“You don’t bring every debate into the public square,” Priebus said. “You have conversations in private and you resolve things together. Ultimately it was CNN’s decision and CNN did the right thing.”

Priebus said that this instance of an issue with the debate criteria is a fluke that nobody intended to happen and added that he doesn’t expect it to happen again.

“I think CNN very innocently put out a criteria that at the time seemed reasonable to everyone involved including CNN,” Priebus said. “I think if you look at the historical history of polling, in the past four years and the four years before that, there were a whole ton of polls that took place in August and September. There were on pretty solid ground knowing that there would be a lot of polls. Well, as it turns out, we understand now, there were a bunch of polls before the debate but not many after. They understood that and we’ve been talking to them for a while. They, the entire time, wanted to address it and obviously were a part of those conversations and today made the change and it’s probably for the better.”

Explaining the circumstances further, Priebus said that he thinks this is an odd scenario because the first debate was in early in August and the second debate isn’t until six weeks after the first one.

“I think this particular case is fairly unique because the first debate was on Aug. 6, and the Reagan Library debate is over six weeks later,” Priebus said. “I think that if you look at a six week period and the polling in that six weeks should reflect the top tier debate. You have to take each of these things individually and analyze what’s going on and make the best decision that you can. I think CNN did that.”