Questions are arising about which television networks will host the GOP presidential debates, or if the major candidates will participate, given former President Donald Trump's polling lead and growing distrust of Fox News and Gov. Ron DeSantis' anger against CNN and his calls to boycott NBC and MSNBC.
Trump's campaign has questioned whether he needs to debate, and he has become angry with Fox News over its coverage of DeSantis, and he's indicating he does not trust the network to host debates, sources have told Axios.
But DeSantis, who continues to hold second place in the party's polling, does not want the Republican National Committee to sanction a debate with either CNN or NBC, other sources said.
The questions have grown after CNN held its primetime town hall with Trump last month, drawing 3.3 million viewers. CNN CEO Chris Licht, while pitching for one of the debates, has offered to the RNC to air the event not only on its own feed but possibly on linear networks of other Warner Bros. Discovery channels, promising that by doing that, the debates will reach more conservative viewers than they would on Fox News, along with independent voters.
Licht further has offered a partnership with an unnamed conservative-leaning outlet to allow a journalist from that network to serve as a co-moderator for the debate.
Meanwhile, NBC News' pitch offers up NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt as moderator, accompanied by colleagues from MSNBC and Telemundo.
Holt has already been lobbying the RNC personally, appearing before the committee in February to pitch. NBC News is also promising distribution across MSNBC, Telemundo, CNBC, the streaming service NBC News Now, and its digital channels.
But the pitch came as DeSantis said he was boycotting NBC News and MSNBC after objecting to how MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell had worded a question to Vice President Kamala Harris implying he didn't want slavery taught in Florida's schools. Mitchell later issued an on-air apology, calling her question "imprecise."
Fox News says hosts Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum are the potential moderators for the first RNC debate, scheduled in August. Trump has not committed to participating in it, but he did appear in a town hall event with Fox's Sean Hannity Thursday night.
The RNC has reached out to several conservative outlets. Axios reports that Newsmax and Rumble have offered pitches, but other networks passed because of concerns over costs.
DeSantis says he wants to debate, but told Glenn Beck last week that the "corporate media" should not be involved because they are "hostile to us as Republicans."
However, a DeSantis spokesperson also declined to comment on whether the Florida governor will commit to showing up at the first debate in August.
Meanwhile, ABC, which co-hosts the New Hampshire primary debate every year with New Hampshire affiliate WMUR, has expressed interest in that debate again, as well as a potential fall debate.
CBS News says it wants to host a debate in 2024, after some of the wide roster of Republican candidates will likely be thinned out, and PBS has also submitted a bid, the network confirmed.
Facebook and Twitter have not pitched participation in the debates, but Rumble will partner with Fox News in August.
Politico has co-hosted debates in the past, but did not pitch for this year, nor did Axios, sources said. The Washington Post has also made a pitch.
"Politico has robust coverage plans for the debates, is exploring opportunities for ancillary events around them, and is actively engaged in planning for an ambitious and substantial footprint at the conventions in Milwaukee and Chicago," a company spokesperson said.
Sandy Fitzgerald ✉
Sandy Fitzgerald has more than three decades in journalism and serves as a general assignment writer for Newsmax covering news, media, and politics.
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