GOP v CPD: Republicans to Forbid Future Party Nominees to Take Part in Presidential Debates
The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) was established in the United States in 1987 with a goal “to ensure, for the benefit of the American electorate, that general election debates between or among the leading candidates for the offices of president and vice-president […] are a permanent part of the electoral process”.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) alerted the CPD that it intends to require the party's future nominees to skip presidential debates because of what the RNC views as the commission's bias toward the GOP.
The RNC listed its grievances to the CPD in a letter, concluding it will be starting a process of amending party rules to "prohibit future Republican nominees from participating in CPD-sponsored debates."
"The RNC has a duty to ensure that its future presidential nominees have the opportunity to debate their opponents on a level playing field," RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel wrote in the letter. "So long as the CPD appears intent on stonewalling the meaningful reforms necessary to restore its credibility with the Republican Party as a fair and nonpartisan actor, the RNC will take every step to ensure that future Republican presidential nominees are given that opportunity elsewhere."
According to the committee's letter, the RNC shared its concerns in regard to alleged bias against Republicans in spring 2021. Among the said concerns were waiting until after the beginning of early voting before hosting the first presidential debate, making changes to formats and conditions without notifying candidates, employing moderators who previously worked for the Democratic National Committee and failing to maintain non-partisanship.
McDaniel said that the party offered a handful of reforms to tackle these concerns. In particular, it suggested adopting term limits for the CPD's Board of Directors, holding at least one debate before early voting kicks off and enacting a transparent code for moderators and other CPD staffers of various levels.
According to the letter, the CPD said it would take the concerns voiced by the RNC into consideration, but failed to indicate readiness to implement any of the proposed reforms.
In response, the CPD noted that it "deals directly with candidates for president and vice-president who qualify for participation".
“The CPD’s plans for 2024 will be based on fairness, neutrality and a firm commitment to help the American public learn about the candidates and the issues," the commission stated.
The move by the Republican National Committee to step away from participating in traditional CPD's presidential debates also drew comments from the White House. Press Secretary Jen Psaki, when asked about President Biden's response to the committee's intentions, suggested that the GOP is "afraid" of taking part in the debates.
"The President has participated in many debates over the course of his career and believes they play a role in allowing the American people to hear from candidates and where they stand," Psaki asserted. "So, I think it's a question best posed to the RNC on what they're so afraid of."
The traditional presidential debates take place before Voting Day, and they are usually already tense because of the vicissitudes of the White House race. But in recent times - particularly during the 2020 elections - things got even more heated. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the electoral process of that year saw some changes, specifically a shift to remote technologies and early voting.
The first presidential debate on 29 September, more than a month after the beginning of early voting when millions of ballots had already been cast, drew ire from the Republicans. Then, following a positive COVID test of then-candidate Donald Trump, the commission offered to shift another scheduled debate to online - a move the GOP vehemently declined, believing it would benefit the rival candidate Joe Biden.
Aside from this, Trump and other Republicans blasted several moderators, among them Kristen Welker, an NBC White House correspondent (who Trump called a "radical Democrat"), and Chris Wallace, who at the time was a Fox News host (according to Trump, "he was acknowledged to have failed badly as a Presidential debate moderator").