Early 2024 war: RNC warns presidential debate commission GOP candidates will be no-shows if rules don’t change

The surest sign that presidential debates are not fair is that while many on the right complain about how they are structured, the left is largely content with how things are, and the Republican Party is taking action to address some obvious concerns.

Warning that she may advise future presidential candidates against participating in debates, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel sent a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates calling for significant changes.

Billed as a “nonpartisan” forum, the commission has been responsible for holding presidential and vice presidential debates since 1988.

“The CPD’s repeated missteps and the partisan actions of its Board Members make clear that the organization no longer provides the fair and impartial forum for presidential debates which the law requires and the American people deserve,” the letter reads.

“Our sincere hope is that the CPD accepts this criticism and works to correct its mistakes,” McDaniels added. “If not, the RNC will have no choice but to advise future Republican candidates against participating in CPD-hosted debates, and the RNC will look for other options for its candidates to debate the issues before the American people in a neutral and nonpartisan forum.”

Looking back on the 2020 presidential election, former President Donald Trump and the GOP took issue with a number of things, including when debates were scheduled, the choice of moderators, issues raised during debates, the CPD’s decision to hold a virtual debate and a call to mute a candidate’s mic during the final debate.

The first debate in 2020 was moderated by Fox News’s Chris Wallace — a Democrat — and proved to be disastrous. He struggled badly to maintain control and consistently interrupted Trump, who at one point said, “I guess I’m debating you, not him. But that’s OK. I’m not surprised.”

The second debate was to be held virtually due to the pandemic, but Trump resisted and it would end up being canceled. Trump and then-Democratic nominee Joe Biden would do individual town halls instead.

The selection of C-SPAN’s Steve Scully to moderate what would have been the second contest was of particular concern, because he had once worked for Biden. Scully then reached out to Anthony Scaramucci, who served very briefly as Trump’s White House communications director, on Twitter for advice. By this time, Scaramucci was a rabid Trump hater. The tweet was seen as a fumbled attempt at a direct message. At first, Scully claimed he was hacked, but later admitted this was a lie — C-SPAN placed him on “administrative leave” shortly thereafter.

“It should be obvious, for instance, that no person should serve as a moderator who previously worked for one of the candidates,” McDaniel wrote.

Other requested changes include “term limits on CPD’s board of directors, enacting a ‘code of conduct’ barring CPD staff from making public comments in support or opposition to any candidate, committing to hosting at least one debate before the start of early voting in any state and publicizing criteria for selecting moderators,” The Hill noted.

The RNC chair asked the CPD to provide a response to the requests by July 31.

“The Republican Party needs assurances that the CPD will make meaningful reforms to the debate process by working with stakeholders to restore the faith and legitimacy it has lost,” McDaniel said. “If not, as RNC Chairman, I will have no choice but to advise future Republican candidates against participating in CPD-hosted debates.”

“For too long, the CPD has failed to meet its responsibility to presidential candidates and American voters nationwide in providing a neutral forum for candidate debates,” she added. “This situation is intolerable, and the RNC can no longer give the CPD the benefit of the doubt. The CPD must act now to undertake meaningful reforms and work with stakeholders to restore the faith and legitimacy it has lost.”

Tom Tillison

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