Network Sources Deny Trump Claim That He Dictated Number Of Primary Debate Participants

Donald Trump claimed on Saturday that he had pushed networks to host an odd number of candidates during Republican primary debates in order to ensure that he would not have to share center stage with another candidate and “usually won.” Network sources flatly deny that this happened.

While Trump was placed in the center during the debates on CNN, CNBC, Fox News, Fox Business, CBS and ABC, the choice to place him there and the number of candidates onstage was determined by polling data, not his request, those sources say.

“We determined position based on poll numbers,” CNBC Spokesman Brian Steele told Media Matters. Other sources at the networks also said such an approach has been standard during recent campaign cycles and had nothing to do with Trump or any other candidate’s demands.

Trump said during a speech Saturday in Waterbury, Connecticut, that he fought to be in the center by himself and “I usually won that fight, but not always.”

See his full comment below:

DONALD TRUMP: Every single debate I was on center stage, and the only thing I asked of the debates were I want an odd number of people. You know why? When it was an even number I was on center stage with somebody else. In other words, if we had five I was in the center, if we had six I was sharing it, I didn't like that OK? So I'd fight, and I usually won that fight, but not always. But I was center stage, I was number one, on every single debate. 

But sources at several of the networks said that placement and number of candidates was based on polling only, and had been for the past few campaign cycles.

A CNN spokesperson declined to comment, but referred Media Matters to the network’s reporting on their debates that indicated participation would be based on set, previously announced criteria. 

The articles state that participation in the CNN December debate was based on “the average of the national polls from November and December,” while the CNN February debate in Houston was based on the delegate count for the first four nominating contests.