Christie, Fiorina dismiss Republican debate concerns

Story highlights

  • Several 2016 Republican candidates are complaining about debate formats and how their party is negotiating with the media
  • Chris Christie said Monday that he didn't care about the debate format, but Lindsey Graham took issue with the two-tier setup that several media outlets have had

Washington (CNN)Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina dismissed concerns from their Republican opponents about the debate format Monday, but South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said the candidates need to have a say as Republicans look for a path forward after Wednesday's debate.

Christie said Monday that while the moderators of the last GOP presidential debate did a poor job, he and his fellow Republican candidates should not get to control the debate format. The New Jersey governor, whose most memorable moment in the CNBC debate came as he slammed the moderators for asking about fantasy football, took to the airwaves to suggest that he wasn't concerned about the handling of the debates.
While representatives from the GOP presidential campaigns met Sunday evening to discuss ways to reform the debate process, Christie said debate negotiations should stay in the hands of the Republican National Committee.
    "That doesn't mean that I want us, the candidates, controlling the debate, the format and having everybody negotiate. We'll never agree," Christie said on CNN's "New Day," referring to the RNC's decision to cancel an upcoming NBC/Telemundo-sponsored debate. "The RNC has done a good job on this. They took steps against NBC when they felt they had gotten out of line. I think we should allow the RNC to continue doing what they're doing."
    Christie criticized CNBC moderator John Harwood for treating the debate like "an interview," but said the adversarial forum still shed light on the candidates.
    "The third debate wasn't awful. A lot of the questions were bad, but you know what you learned a lot about those candidates on that stage too -- how you can handle going back and forth," Christie said. "The presidency is almost never scripted, so we shouldn't have those debates scripted either."
    Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO, said she was not at candidate debate meeting Sunday night and dismissed concerns from her opponents.
    "I wasn't there, my campaign wasn't there. We're here in Iowa talking to voters instead of being in D.C, talking about debates," Fiorina said on Fox News' "Fox and Friends." "We've had no trouble negotiating with networks and my policy remains what it's always been: I'll debate anyone, anytime, anywhere. We need to understand that the media is not going to be fair."
    However, Graham is one of the candidates who said he would like to see some changes to the debates. First up for him would be getting off the "undercard" stage and splitting the candidates evenly among two stages.
    "When a million and a half people watch the first debate, and 14 million watch the second, your ability to break out is fairly limited," Graham told CNN's Alisyn Camerota on "New Day" Monday. "When you're called the 'undercard candidate' it sort of puts you in a different spot, too. I don't think I'm an undercard candidate."
    The RNC acted quickly in the wake of last Wednesday's debate to assuage candidate concerns -- Chairman Reince Priebus sent a letter to NBC Friday announcing the suspension of their February debate and the RNC replaced lead debate negotiator Sean Spicer with Sean Caircross Sunday, shortly before the campaigns' debate meeting.
    But Graham said there are some fundamental problems with the debates.
    "We have too many, people on one stage and too few on the other," Graham said Monday. "I don't mind being asked hard questions and challenging questions, I think some of the questions have been downright silly and this thing has gone on too long, the second debate went on too long, the last debate was just a complete food fight. So we're trying to take control of the process. And Reince Priebus is a good friend, my beef is not with him."
    Sen. Ted Cruz said over the weekend that he wants Republicans to moderate the debates instead of journalists. But Former New York Gov. George Pataki, whose campaign staff was at the meeting, said he doesn't think politicians should be controlling the questions.
    Pataki, who has toiled on the "undercard" stage with Graham and others at the back of the pack, was optimistic about the chances for a new debate format.
    "I don't know if the process is a good thing, but I think the product can't help but be a better thing -- because it was a disaster where you had these gotcha questions and you just don't have time to lay out a serious positions," Pataki told CNN's Carol Costello on "Newsroom." "I hope that it does change."