The Republican Party is seeking to bar candidates from participating in debates hosted by the Commission on Presidential Debates over concerns that the organization is biased against Republican candidates.
“The change requiring candidates to refuse participation in the commission’s debates is to be voted on at the R.N.C. winter meeting in Salt Lake City in February,” The New York Times reported. “If the R.N.C. moves forward with it, it is unclear what that would mean for future debates. But it would change the approach to be similar to what happened before the commission existed, when the two parties or campaigns had to negotiate directly and agree on terms, or no debates would take place.”
RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said that the party has a duty to make sure that its candidates are treated fairly during the debates.
“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,” McDaniel said. “Accordingly, the RNC will initiate the process of amending the Rules of the Republican Party at our upcoming Winter Meeting to prohibit future Republican nominees from participating in CPD-sponsored debates.”
The letter from McDaniel to the commission laid out the Republican Party’s history of reaching out to the commission with concerns that have led to a loss of faith in the organization.
Some of the top concerns laid out in the letter included:
- Waiting until after early voting had already begun to host the first presidential debate;
- Making unilateral changes to previously agreed-upon debate formats and conditions, in some cases without even notifying the candidates;
- Selecting a moderator who had once worked for the Democrat nominee, a glaring conflict of interest; and
- Failing to maintain the organization’s strict nonpartisanship, with a majority of its Board Members publicly disparaging the Republican nominee.
McDaniel called for the commission to adopt the following changes to address the party’s concerns:
- Adopt term limits for its Board of Directors, several members of which have served for
more than a decade;
- Commit to holding at least one debate before the start of early voting, and in no case after
the deadline for states to mail absentee ballots to uniformed and overseas voters;
- Enact a code of conduct prohibiting CPD officers, directors, and staff from making public
comments supporting or opposing any candidate, or otherwise engaging in partisan
political activity in connection with the presidential election, with meaningful
consequences for violations;
- Establish transparent criteria for selecting debate moderators that would disqualify
individuals from consideration who have apparent conflicts of interest due to personal,
professional, or partisan factors; and
- Enact a transparent code of conduct for moderators in conducting debates, including
guidelines for appropriate interactions with the participating nominees, with meaningful
penalties for violations.
McDaniel said that the responses that the party has received from the commission were unacceptable because they “seem designed to delay any reform until it is too late to matter for the 2024 election.”
“We are especially frustrated with the CPD’s refusal to enact reforms aimed at ensuring nonpartisanship by claiming that doing so would somehow render the organization more partisan,” McDaniel added. “The RNC has made clear that it understands the need for the CPD to be nonpartisan, and in fact has initiated this dialogue toward that end. As the RNC has proposed, one easy measure to restore trust would be to allow a representative from parties that have participated in past debates to observe CPD Board meetings, not on the basis of partisan affiliation, but on a party’s respective candidate having met the previous cycle’s debate participation criteria. We fail to see how that specific proposal, or any of the RNC’s other recommendations for that matter, would jeopardize the CPD’s nonpartisanship, as you suggest. Instead, the Commission appears more concerned about the supposed ‘partisanship’ of allowing recent participants to observe its Board meetings than it is of its own partisan actions and those of its members and moderators.”
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