The Republican National Committee is preparing to change its rules so that presidential candidates seeking nomination to the party must sign a pledge not to participate in debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates.
Republican committee officials informed the debate committee of their plans in a letter sent Thursday, a copy of which was obtained by DailyExpertNews. If the change continues, it would be one of the most substantial shifts in the way presidential and vice presidential debates have been conducted since the committee began hosting debates more than 30 years ago.
The nonprofit committee, created by the two parties in 1987 to codify the debates as a permanent part of the presidential election, describes itself as impartial. But Republicans have been complaining for nearly a decade that their processes favor Democrats, a reflection of conservatives’ growing resentment toward Washington-based institutions.
The RNC’s move was an outgrowth of those long-held complaints and came after months of discussions between the committee and party officials. According to the letter from the RNC, the chairman of the party’s temporary presidential debate committee, David Bossie, began talks with debate committee co-chairman Frank Fahrenkopf, a former Republican official, last year.
Republican Party Chair Ronna McDaniel had demanded changes be made to the committee and how the debates were held, writing in a letter to the committee in June that the party and its voters had confidence in the committee. lost.
The amendment requiring candidates to decline to participate in the committee’s debates is to be voted on at the RNC winter meeting in Salt Lake City in February. If the RNC takes this further, it’s unclear what that would mean for future debates. But it would change the approach so that it is similar to what happened before the commission existed, when the two sides or campaigns had to negotiate directly and agree on the terms or there would be no debates.
Commission officials have personally complained that RNC leaders have confused the processes surrounding primary debates with those of the general election, the only ones the committee is involved in. They have also complained that the committee has historically been concerned with campaigns and not party committees. While the final nominee might decide to debate, there’s a lot more energy in the GOP base behind the institution’s exit than there used to be.
“The CPD will deal directly with candidates for president and vice president who are eligible to participate,” the committee said in a statement. “The CPD’s plans for 2024 will be based on fairness, neutrality and a determined commitment to help the American public learn more about the candidates and the issues.”
A major concern for the RNC has been the timing of the first debate in the 2024 election cycle.
In 2020, more than a million votes were cast ahead of the first presidential debate on September 29 of that year, after some states changed their election rules due to the coronavirus pandemic and expanded both absenteeism and early voting. The party has urged the committee to hold a debate before the early vote begins in 2024.
Former President Donald J. Trump has criticized the commission since its first campaign against Hillary Clinton in 2016, when he complained that one of its co-chairs, Mike McCurry, was a White House press secretary under President Bill Clinton. He also then complained that the debates were held at the same time as NFL games. Mr. McCurry later condemned Mr Trump’s attacks on the media as president.
Committee officials told the RNC in December that one of the party’s demands was particularly unacceptable: having non-voting representatives from the RNC or the Democratic National Committee attend the committee’s board meetings. The committee wrote that it was still studying those and other concerns raised by the RNC, including the choice of moderators, as part of its assessment ahead of the 2024 campaign cycle.
“We take the RNC’s comments and suggestions seriously and, as we have said before, we will consider them carefully,” the committee’s letter read. “In furtherance of our position as an impartial, neutral agency, which does not favor or disapprove of any party or candidate, we do not negotiate the terms of our operations with anyone.”
But in her letter on Thursday, Ms. McDaniel replied that the committee’s response appeared to be designed to “delay any reform until it is too late to matter for the 2024 election.”
She added that the job of the Republican National Committee was to ensure that its candidates debated on a level playing field with their opponents.
“As long as the CPD appears intent on making the meaningful reforms necessary to restore its credibility with the Republican Party as an honest and impartial actor, the RNC appears to be doing everything it can to ensure that future Republican presidential candidates who chance elsewhere,” said Mrs. McDaniel wrote.
Accordingly, she added, the RNC would begin the process of changing its rules at its winter meeting “to ban future Republican nominees from participating in CPD-sponsored debates.”
It remains to be seen which new entity the Republican Party will choose to host debates and whether the Democrats will agree.
Republicans have long complained about the committee’s handling of debates, going back to the 2012 campaign when Utah Senator Mitt Romney was the Republican nominee against incumbent Democrat President Barack Obama. The moderator of the town hall-style debate Candy Crowley, then at DailyExpertNews, checked on Mr. Romney in real time about a claim he had made about Mr. Obama, sparking outrage from conservatives.
But the intensity of frustration with the committee has grown since Mr. Trump first became the Republican nominee in 2016.
Mr. Trump’s adviser, Rudolph W. Giuliani, argued with the committee during the second debate with Ms. Clinton, when he attempted to place women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct close to the podium. Mr Trump has also repeatedly complained about moderators, claiming that both former Fox News anchor Chris Wallace and NBC News reporter Kristen Welker were biased against him.
The committee turned the second presidential debate in 2020 into a virtual format, prompting Mr Trump to withdraw after a controversial debate with Democratic candidate Joe Biden, for which Mr Trump was heavily criticized.
Trump’s then-campaign director Bill Stepien wrote a blistering letter to the committee after the second debate format was changed, accusing the committee, among other things, of omitting the subject of foreign policy in an attempt to help Mr. Biden.