RNC says it will keep GOP presidential candidates from participating in debates sponsored by long-standing commission – The Washington Post

By and Josh Dawsey,

The Republican National Committee is threatening to keep its party’s presidential nominees from participating in debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, the nonprofit organization that has hosted them for more than three decades.

In a letter dated Thursday, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel wrote that Republican voters have “lost faith in your organization.” She also expressed frustration with the commission’s unwillingness to adopt several “commonsense” changes that the RNC has advocated.

“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,” McDaniel wrote in a letter first reported by the New York Times.

In a statement, Frank J. Fahrenkopf, co-chairman of the debates commission, noted that his organization has dealt “directly” with the candidates for president and vice president who qualify for general-election debates, not their party organizations.

“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,” Fahrenkopf said.

In an interview, Fahrenkopf called the meetings with the RNC “cordial” but said the committee “wanted to control things we aren’t prepared to let them control.” He said the Democratic National Committee had not made any similar demands.

In a separate letter sent to the RNC in December, the commission said it would consider an earlier-scheduled debate because of early voting, but rejected RNC suggestions that it should have a representative at the organization’s board meetings and have more influence on picking moderators. The commission also said it did not control the personal political activities of its members but would attempt to continue to be nonpartisan.

[Trump raises possibility of skipping debates hosted by traditional group]

Republicans have previously accused the Washington-based commission of bias. During the 2020 cycle, President Donald Trump complained vociferously about the commission, at one point tweeting that it was “stacked with Trump Haters & Never Trumpers.”

Trump for months considered not participating in debates, although he was ultimately won over by the national television ratings and his belief that he could embarrass then-Democratic nominee Joe Biden onstage, people close to him said.

In the 2024 cycle, the RNC could force Republican candidates to pledge before participating in primary debates — which the commission does not sponsor — that they would not participate in a commission-led general-election debate.

But eventually, as Fahrenkopf noted, the candidate and not the party organization would decide whether to participate in the debate.

In her letter, McDaniel pressed several arguments about the commission’s perceived bias, saying it was “a glaring conflict of interest” that one of the moderators it tapped in 2020 had once worked for the Democratic nominee.

She was referring to Steve Scully of C-SPAN, who was an intern for Biden for one month in 1978, when Biden was a senator from Delaware, according to a biography published by George Washington University. The debate Scully was scheduled to moderate wound up being canceled after Trump objected to holding it virtually because of coronavirus concerns.

In the letter, McDaniel also renewed an RNC objection that the first presidential debate in 2020 did not take place until after early voting had begun in several states. And she accused the commission of making “unilateral changes to previously agreed-upon debate formats and conditions.”

“The RNC’s concerns strike at the core of whether the CPD credibly can provide a fair and impartial forum for presidential debates,” McDaniel wrote.

Asked about the RNC’s plans, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden “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. So I think it’s more . . . a question best posed to the RNC on what they’re so afraid of.”

The Commission on Presidential Debates was established in 1987 and has hosted general-election debates every cycle since 1988.

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