The Republican National Committee is withdrawing from presidential debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, concluding that the group has been unresponsive to its concerns over the next events in 2024.
In a statement, Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the RNC, said, “Debates are an important part of the democratic process, and the RNC is committed to free and fair debates. The Commission on Presidential Debates is biased and has refused to enact simple and commonsense reforms to help ensure fair debates including hosting debates before voting begins and selecting moderators who have never worked for candidates on the debate stage.”
The vote was unanimous.
The Commission on Presidential Debates is the non-partisan group set up in 1988 to host the fall presidential debates. The organization, chaired by Frank Fahrenkopf and Antonia Hernandez, is tasked with selecting moderators, dates, formats and other elements of the events, which have produced some of the most consequential moments in advance of the general election.
But in 2016 and then in 2020, Donald Trump and his campaign complained that the group was biased. In the last cycle, Trump’s campaign attempted to influence the selection of moderators, sending the commission a list of suggested figures. But the commission maintained that it was independent and selected the moderators on its own. Trump objected to the choices of some of the debate moderators, including Chris Wallace, then of Fox News, and Steve Scully, then of C-SPAN.
Trump’s campaign also asked the commission to move up the timing of the first debate, as many states began their early voting. They also protested when the planned second presidential debate, slated for Oct. 15, switched to an all virtual format after Trump contracted Covid. That matchup with Joe Biden was eventually canceled.
A spokesperson for the commission did not immediately return a request for comment. In January, when the RNC first threatened to back out of the debate, the CPD noted that it “deals directly with candidates for President and Vice President who qualify for participation in the CPD’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 RNC said that they would be “exploring other avenues for candidates to have a free and fair forum for all Americans.” It’s still possible that the Republican nominee could participate in the debate — against the wishes of the party itself.
Before the commission was established, the debates had been sponsored by the League of Women Voters starting in 1976.
The commission is not involved in the staging of primary season debates, which are typically sponsored by individual networks and news outlets. Based on the timing of past cycles, the first primary debate of the 2024 cycle is a little more than a year away.
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