President Donald Trump’s presidency has been marked by many firsts: He’s been the first billionaire president, the first president in over a century to not own a pet and, according to some, the first president to be impeached over nothing.
And if the rumors are true, next year he may mark yet another first.
“President Trump is discussing with his advisers the possibility of sitting out the general election debates in 2020 because of his misgivings about the commission that oversees them, “The New York Times reported Thursday, citing its forever-anonymous sources.
The president’s alleged hesitation over attending the 2020 election debates is reportedly rooted in his distrust of the Commission on Presidential Debates.
Formed in 1987, the commission is a corporate-sponsored non-profit that organizes and produces debates, and, more notably, chooses the debate moderators.
When CNN hosts Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz allegedly, as claimed by then-GOP nominee Trump, allowed then-Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton to go over her time and avoid questions about her email scandal at an Oct. 9, 2016, presidential debate, it was because of the commission’s choice in moderators.
Watch scenes from that tense debate below:
And when Trump experienced problems speaking at a Sept. 26, 2016, debate, because of a defective microphone, it was again because of the commission.
“I had a problem with a microphone that didn’t work,” he told reporters after the debate. “I don’t know if you saw that in the room. My microphone was terrible.”
“I wonder was it set up that way on purpose. My microphone in the room, they couldn’t hear me, you know, it was going on and off. Which isn’t exactly great. I wonder if it was set up that way, but it was terrible. When I tested, it was beautiful, like an hour before, I said what a great mic.”
The next day, Clinton mockingly dismissed his complaints about his microphone and accused him of trying to deflect from his alleged loss.
“Anyone who complains about microphone problems is not having a good night.” —Hillary #SheWon
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) September 27, 2016
But a formal investigation conducted by the commission after the fact found otherwise.
“The Commission on Presidential Debates confirmed on Friday that there were problems with Donald Trump’s microphone during the first debate earlier this week,” Business Insider reported a couple of days later.
“Regarding the first debate, there were issues regarding Donald Trump’s audio that affected the sound level in the debate hall,” the commission reportedly confirmed in a pithy but otherwise clear statement.
At the time, the then-candidate’s campaign officials made it equally clear that they weren’t pleased with the commission’s handling of the debates:
— Fox News (@FoxNews) October 11, 2016
Returning to the present, asked by the Times this week about the rumors regarding the president’s desire to skip the 2020 debates because of his concerns about the commission, Trump’s campaign advisers reportedly declined to answer.
“At a state-of-the-race campaign briefing in Arlington, Va., the president’s advisers declined to comment on what their plan was for the debates,” the Times reported. “One senior adviser to the president seemed to wince at the question, and said it was not something advisers were prepared to discuss until next year.”
While it’s not clear whether the president’s distrust of the Commission on Presidential Debates also derives from other concerns, the commission has long faced complaints and lawsuits over its policies and apparent dark money tendencies.
“[T]he organization’s operating expenses and debate production costs are paid by a small number of major donors,” The Center for Public Integrity warned in 2008.
“In 2004, the Commission took in over $4.1 million, more than 93 percent of which came from just six contributors. On the donor list provided to the Center for Public Integrity, the Commission blanked out the names of all six. Nonprofit organizations are not legally required to make this information public.”
About a decade later in 2016, right before the conclusion of the last presidential election, the commission faced a lawsuit challenging its nonprofit status.
Filed by then-libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein, the suit accused the commission of protecting “the private interests of the Republican and Democratic parties instead of the public interest that its nonprofit nonpartisan status demands.”
“Fact is, the Commission on Presidential Debates is, literally, a partnership between the Republican and the Democratic Parties. The same two parties that have a self-interest in keeping a third voice off the stage,” a presser published by Johnson at the time read.
“Fact is, the Commission on Presidential Debates, the Republican and Democratic Parties, the pollsters, and the media sponsors that are given the privilege of hosting the debates, have private agreements that govern who will and will not be allowed to participate.”
Johnson spent much of 2016 tweeting his complaints about the commission:
— Gov. Gary Johnson (@GovGaryJohnson) August 14, 2016
— Gov. Gary Johnson (@GovGaryJohnson) August 27, 2016
— Gov. Gary Johnson (@GovGaryJohnson) September 16, 2016
— Gov. Gary Johnson (@GovGaryJohnson) September 27, 2016
Trump for his part hasn’t yet begun tweeting about the Commission on Presidential Debates, though he may start next year.
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