Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus Thursday unleashed a sharp attack on liberal TV critic Chris Matthews, calling the MSNBC Hardball host "bizarre," "unhinged," and "hysterical" for charging the GOP with playing the race card.

Appearing on America's Radio News Network with hosts John McCaslin and Chris Salcedo, Priebus said that when challenged by Matthews over race earlier this week, he tried to avoid a fight, though he did call Matthews a "jerk."

Recalling the episode, Priebus said, "my reaction was, as it was happening was, OK Chris Matthews is just trying to make a scene for his own brand and his own show and I had a choice to make, I could get in the ditch with him or I could call it as I saw it and move on."

Priebus added, "sometimes you have a choice to make. Do you want to get into the ditch and have that food fight right then and there and draw you into the narrative? And as a party chairman during the week of the convention I just don't think that's the right place for the party chairman to be in the narrative on a useless altercation with a guy who's got about 10 viewers on his show."

Recalling the clash, he said, "everyone watching that show saw a guy that was unhinged, he was acting bizarre. So why would I put all the focus on me during the week of the convention and jump into the ditch with someone who is hysterical?"

Matthews has since defended his behavior. He told Politico, "It is obvious that this is something I care passionately about: race was abused by white politicians in my lifetime, including Reagan. For someone to come on the program and deny that this is part of their process, I couldn't take that." He added, "This is something I really, deeply believe in. We grew up in a country where appeals to race have been awful, terrible. This language -- we are beyond this. It had to be called out."