Republicans Threaten to Bar Presidential Nominees From Participating in Some Debates

Republicans on Thursday escalated a feud with the Committee on Presidential Debates (CPD), threatening to bar its future presidential nominees from participating in debates organized by the panel.

Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, in a letter made public by the committee, told CPD leaders that because the panel is refusing to make changes to the way debates are planned and run, the RNC is on track to remove Republicans from the equation.

“The RNC has a duty to ensure that its future presidential nominees have the opportunity to debate their opponents on a level playing field. 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,” she added.

Republicans have grown increasingly disenfranchised with the CPD, with several actions carried out during the 2020 election leading to calls for changes, including waiting to host the first debate between then-President Donald Trump and then-candidate Joe Biden until after early voting started in eight states.

Also at issue: many committee co-chairs and board of directors members have donated to Democrats and/or criticized Trump over the years and the choice of Steve Scully, at the time with C-SPAN, to host a debate despite formerly working for Biden and fellow Democrat Sen. Ted Kennedy.

The RNC previously said it would urge GOP candidates not to take part in debates organized by the CPD, but is stepping up its posture after it said CPD rejected proposed “commonsense reforms” such as adopting term limits for members of the board of directors and committing to holding at least one debate before the start of early voting.

“Unfortunately, the CPD’s responses so far seem designed to delay any reform until it is too late to matter for the 2024 election,” McDaniel said.

A request for comment from the CPD was not answered and it has not appeared to address the letter elsewhere. The Democrat National Committee did not return an inquiry.

The CPD, which describes itself as nonpartisan, was created in 1987 “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 of the United States are a permanent part of the electoral process,” it says on its website.

The CPD imposed changes mid-election to the debate format after the first debate between Trump and Biden saw moderator Chris Wallace, who recently left Fox News for CNN, repeatedly interject, prompting Trump to quip that he was debating Wallace instead of Biden.

Zachary Stieber

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Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news and stories relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is based in Maryland.

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