Ronna McDaniel says GOP will skip future presidential debates unless debate commission gives in to party’s demands

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  • Donald Trump
    Donald Trump
    45th President of the United States
  • Frank Fahrenkopf
    American political activist
RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel speaks at a GOP event (Getty Images)
RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel speaks at a GOP event (Getty Images)

The Republican National Committee is considering amending GOP rules to prohibit future presidential candidates from participating in debates put on by the nonpartisan commission which has organised them for more than two decades.

In a letter to Commission on Presidential Debates co-chairs Frank Fahrenkopf and Kenneth Wollack, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said the party will begin the process of adding the prohibition to party rules at the committee’s upcoming winter meeting because the commission has not adequately responded to a laundry list of Republican grievances.

Many of those grievances stem from complaints made by former president Donald Trump, who in December 2019 accused the organisation of being “stacked with Trump Haters and Never Trumpers”.

The former president threatened to skip the three CPD-sponsored debates during his 2020 reelection campaign on the grounds that the group was “very biased” against him, though he offered no evidence to support his allegations.

While the group’s executive director is a former GOP White House staffer and its’ board includes GOP eminences grises such as Mr Fahrenkopf — a former RNC chairman — and ex-GOP senators John Danforth and Olympia Snowe, Mr Trump and his allies feel the Republican representatives on the organisation’s board should include more openly partisan and sycophantic representatives of the Trump-era GOP.

Ms McDaniel’s letter, which was first reported by The New York Times, enumerates a number of specific complaints about the commission’s past conduct, including its’ decision to schedule the last election cycle’s debates to begin after early voting had begun in several states, trying to make the 2020 “town hall” debate into a virtual event to prevent the spread of Covid-19, allowing candidate microphones to be cut after Mr Trump spent most of the first 2020 debate interrupting and talking over Mr Biden and moderator Chris Wallace, and selecting a 2020 debate moderator who had spent one month in 1978 as an intern in Mr Biden’s senate office.

The GOP chairwoman also listed a number of demands for CPD policy changes necessary for the commission “to have any credibility with the Republican Party and its 74 million voters moving forward”.

Not only has the RNC asked the CPD to hold at least one debate before the start of early voting, but it also has demanded that the group implement codes of conduct for board members and staff which would prohibit them from “making public comments supporting or opposing any candidate, or otherwise engaging in partisan political activity in connection with the presidential election”.

The GOP is also seeking “transparent criteria” for selection of debate moderators that would exclude anyone with “apparent conflicts of interest due to personal, professional, or partisan factors”. Mr Trump and other top Republicans often complained about the commission’s choices for past debate moderators, as the commission has often chosen reputable journalists rather than GOP partisans with long histories in conservative media circles.

Ms McDaniel also demanded that the group enact a “code of conduct” for moderators that would spell out “meaningful penalties” for violations. Republicans have also complained about previous moderators treatment of GOP candidates, including an incident during a 2012 debate involving then-CNN correspondent Candy Crowley fact-checking a claim by then-GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

In a statement to The Independent, a CPD spokesperson said the commission only deals “directly” with presidential and vice-presidential candidates who qualify for participation in the group’s general election debates.

“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 spokesperson said.

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