LAKEWOOD, Colo. — Republican presidential front-runner Ben Carson told reporters Thursday that he was reaching out to every rival campaign to lobby for changes to future debate formats.
“Debates are supposed to be established to help the people get to know the candidate,” Carson said at a news conference before a speech at Colorado Christian University. “What it’s turned into is — gotcha! That’s silly. That’s not helpful to anybody.”
Carson, who got less time at Wednesday night’s CNBC-hosted debate than candidates who were faring worse in polls, was raising the already high-decibel volume of criticism. Shortly after the debate ended, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tweeted that it had been ruined by “improper and unprofessional” questions from moderators.
“Using it for political purposes just doesn’t make any sense at all,” Carson said. “The first thing we’re looking for is moderators who are actually interested in getting the facts, and not just gotcha questions.”
Asked to define a “gotcha” question, Carson focused on a debate exchange about Mannatech, a nutritional supplements company that the former neurosurgeon had repeatedly endorsed, personally and in paid speeches.
"The questions about Mannatech are definitely gotcha questions," Carson said. "There’s no truth to them. I know people know how to investigate. They can easily go back and find out I don’t have any formal relations with Mannatech. They can easily find out that any videos I did with them were not paid for, were things I truly believed. That would be easy to do. If they had another agenda, they could investigate and say — see, there’s nothing there! But if they have a gotcha agenda, they conveniently ignore all the facts and try to influence public opinion."
But most of the questions in Lakewood focused on Carson's own political skills, and his laconic style of debate. Challenged on whether he was too restrained onstage, Carson said that "the people" understood his style even as the media missed it.
"When I am asked a question, you have to listen carefully for what I say," said Carson. "If you listen to the Twitter and Facebook feeds, it was successful."
Indeed, traffic on social networks found that Carson gained more followers than any other candidate, repeating a pattern that began at the first Republican debate in August. But Carson's sustained criticism of the debate format prompted reporters to ask how he could be expected to debate Democrats in 2016. One quoted an anonymous Republican source, who claimed that Carson was so laid-back that "Hillary Clinton will eat him alive" in debates.
"I would say, I could find just as many people who say his demeanor and his intellect will allow him to make Hillary look like who she is," said Carson.
What was that?
"You'll find out," Carson said with a smile.