The commission also had an answer to the Donald Trump re-election campaign’s list of suggested moderators for the debates: We’ll do the selection.
“The Commission has found that three 90-minute debates work well to fulfill the voter education purposes the debates are intended to serve,” the commission’s co-chairs — Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr. Dorothy S. Ridings, Kenneth Wollack — wrote in a letter to Rudy Giuliani.
On Wednesday, Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, wrote a letter to the commission urging that a fourth debate be added to the schedule, and that it be slotted in early September.
Giuliani argued that a debate should be held at that point since so many states will have begun the voting process as they start sending out mail-in ballots.
But in the letter, the three co-chairs wrote that there “is a difference between ballots having been issued by a state and those ballots having been cast by voters, who are under no compulsion to return their ballots before the debates.”
“While more people will likely vote by mail in 2020, the debate schedule has been and will be highly publicized,” they added. “Any voter who wishes to watch one or more debates before voting will be well aware of that opportunity.”
They did say that they would consider a request to add another presidential debate to the schedule if the candidates were to agree to it. Biden’s campaign has said that he will participate in the three debates on the schedule, slated for Sept. 29 in Cleveland, Oct. 15 in Miami and Oct. 22 in Nashville. A vice presidential debate is scheduled for Oct. 7 in Salt Lake City.
Giuliani also provided the commission with a list of suggested moderators. Although it contained figures such as Norah O’Donnell from CBS News and David Muir from ABC News, it was heavy in Fox News personalities and contributors. Chris Wallace, anchor of Fox News Sunday who moderated a debate in 2016, was not on the list.
The co-chairs made no commitment to pick from the Trump campaign list. The co-chairs wrote that the commission “will adhere to our longstanding procedure of selecting the debate moderators. It will do so with great care, as always, to ensure that the selected moderators are qualified and fair.”
Since the 1988 cycle, the commission has organized and scheduled the presidential debates. While candidates still have to agree to participate, the set schedule has helped make the debates a mainstay of presidential campaigns. After the first televised presidential debates in 1960, between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, there were none until 1976, when the League Of Women Voters sponsored three between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. Carter and Ronald Reagan met just once for a debate in 1980, and Reagan and Mondale had two debates in 1984.
Unlike the presidential primary debates, which are sponsored by individual networks, the general election debates have been aired across all networks.
Giuliani responded to the commission letter. Among other things, he added a new demand. “We must insist on a commitment that the two candidates will definitely appear on stage, in person – whether in a television studio without an audience or elsewhere – and not through separate, online transmissions where Mr. Biden could rely on notes, teleprompter, or handlers.”