The Republican National Committee is threatening to boycott the next general election presidential debates, even though the next matchup of the nominees won’t take place for more than three years.
RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel’s letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates calls for a series of changes, including on how the commission selects debate moderators and on the scheduling of the events.
But the letter also airs a list of grievances that could have come from Donald Trump himself. The former president railed against the commission, a bipartisan body set up in 1988 to host the debates, not just last year but in 2016.
During the most recent cycle, the most significant flare-up was over the planned second debate, which was to be in a town hall format. But after Trump contracted Covid-19, the commission altered plans and switched the format to a virtual event. After Trump rejected the change, the event was canceled.
In the letter, McDaniel also called on the commission to host at least one debate before the start of early voting. Trump’s campaign sought a change in the schedule last cycle, citing early voting as a reason, but the commission stuck to their debate dates.
The RNC also said there should be “transparent criteria” for selecting debate moderators, disqualifying individuals “who have an appearance of bias due to personal, professional or partisan factors.”
Trump complained about debate moderators, including Fox News’ Chris Wallace, who struggled to maintain control as the then-president repeatedly interrupted the proceedings.
Later, Trump attacked C-SPAN’s Steve Scully, who was set to moderate the town hall debate. Scully was temporarily suspended after he admitted he falsely claimed that his Twitter account was hacked, having accidentally posted a tweet in which he sought advice from Trump’s former communications director Anthony Scaramucci, who McDaniel identified as one of Trump’s “fiercest critics.” Still, the Trump campaign’s own suggested list of moderators could hardly be called completely unbiased, as it included opinion hosts like Hugh Hewitt and others, like Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo, who had given the then-president friendly treatment. The commission did not select any of the suggested names.
McDaniel also contended that the commission “made an amateur error” in planning for the third and final debate, which was moderated by NBC News’ Kristen Welker. They said that Trump noticed plexiglass shields placed between him and Biden, which “would have caused a surprising and awkward distraction for both candidates once the cameras started to roll.”
The letter also took issue with the debate commission itself, claiming that six of the 10 board members have “gone on record making disparaging comments about President Trump while serving on the board.” Singled out is Newton Minow, the 95-year-old former FCC chairman who helped create the debate commission. McDaniel wrote that Minow “went so far as to ask the five living former presidents to ‘lead us to safety’ from President Trump.”
McDaniel also called for term limits for the board of directors, as well as a code of conduct that would prohibit directors, officers and staff from making “public comments supporting or opposing any candidate.” They also want a code of conduct for the moderators, including “guidelines for appropriate interactions with the candidates during the debates,” which seems to refer to efforts to rein Trump in during the first debate. McDaniel recommended penalties for those who violated the guidelines, including “suspending their employer network from participating in future debates.”
McDaniel said in a statement, “With the CPD failing in 2020 to host a single debate before the start of early voting, making unilateral changes without informing the candidates, and allowing Members of its Board of Directors to make biased and partisan statements against the Republican nominee, the Republican Party needs assurances that the CPD will make meaningful reforms to the debate process by working with stakeholders to restore the faith and legitimacy it has lost. If not, as RNC Chairman, I will have no choice but to advise future Republican candidates against participating in CPD-hosted debates.”
A spokesperson for the commission did not immediately return a request for comment.