GOP threatens to boycott future presidential debates

‘RNC will have no choice but to advise future Republican candidates against participating in CPD-hosted debates’ if no changes are made, RNC chair writes

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Wednesday 02 June 2021 16:05 BST
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Chair of the Republican National Committee Ronna McDaniel slammed the Commission on Presidential Debates in a letter, threatening to advise future Republican presidential nominees to not take part in debates unless the commission bows to their demands.

“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,” she wrote on Tuesday.

“Our sincere hope is that the CPD accepts this criticism and works to correct its mistakes,” she 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.”

She asked for a response by 31 July. “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,” Ms McDaniel told CNN. “If not, as RNC Chairman, I will have no choice but to advise future Republican candidates against participating in CPD-hosted debates.”

The commission has hosted presidential and vice presidential general election debates since 1988. It’s a nonpartisan commission working with both presidential campaigns to organize the events.

The commission has been dragged into the fray before but has managed to stay largely anonymous. During the 2020 campaign, the commission attracted former President Donald Trump’s anger.

Mr Trump personally, as well as his campaign, often slammed the commission for its selection of moderators, the decision to host the second debate virtually, and the move to mute the other candidate’s mic during the last debate after Mr Trump spent much of the first debate repeatedly interrupting then-Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

The second debate was cancelled after Mr Trump declined to take part in a virtual debate contest despite that he had recently been diagnosed with Covid-19. Both Mr Trump and Mr Biden instead took part in separate town halls.

Ms McDaniel’s letter lays out the issues drawing the ire of the RNC, including the scheduling of the debates, some of the political leanings of its board members and the choice of C-SPAN’s Steve Scully to moderate the second debate, which was later cancelled.

The Trump campaign slammed Mr Scully for working for Mr Biden around 40 years previously.

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

Following the Trump campaign’s attacks, Mr Scully contacted Anthony Scaramucci on Twitter, doing so publicly by accident.

Mr Scaramucci is Mr Trump’s former communications director. He lasted ten days in the post.

When the communication between Mr Scully and Mr Scaramucci angered Republicans, Mr Scully falsely said he had been hacked and was later put on “administrative leave” by C-SPAN for lying.

In her letter, Ms McDaniel praised Mr Trump for “his background in television”, leading him to spot that the glass shields put up between the candidates to prevent the spread of Covid-19 would cause the candidates to only see their own reflections and not each other once the stage had been lit for broadcast.

“Had it not been caught by the President of the United States, the CPD’s unforced error would have caused a surprising and awkward distraction for both candidates once the cameras started to roll,” she wrote.

She suggested term limits for the commission’s board members, forbidding members to make any statements in public about the candidates and urged punishments for those who choose to ignore guidelines. She also wanted the commission to host at least one debate before early voting starts “in any state”.

Ms McDaniel said the commission should disqualify journalists from moderating debates if they have an “appearance of bias due to personal, professional, or partisan factors”.

She also wanted clear rules for how moderators should interact with candidates during debates.

The Independent has reached out to the Commission on Presidential Debates for comment.

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