In a unanimous vote brought on by charges of bias, the Republican National Committee (RNC) voted Thursday to withdraw from the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD).
Ronna McDaniel, RNC chairperson, said the party will find “newer, better debate platforms” that will ensure future GOP candidates are not forced to work with “the biased CPD.” Party candidates now must sign an agreement to only appear in debates for primary and general elections sanctioned by the RNC. The party will continue to sanction debates in primary elections between Republican candidates, and the move only applies to CPD events.
Defenders of the debate process say they are important for the democratic process, but detractors counter that they are now televised spectacles with little value in revealing candidate’s policies.
Republicans have long charged that the timing of presidential debates, the formats and moderators selected are biased. The CPD has overseen the process for decades, but critics charge it has refused to enact “simple and common sense reforms” to ensure fairness.
A prime example came in 2020 when C-SPAN political editor Steve Scully was pegged to moderate the second presidential debate between incumbent President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden. Scully, who earlier worked for Biden, claimed a tweet to former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci asking for help was the result of hacking.
It wasn’t, Scully admitted it, and the debate was ultimately canceled after CPD unilaterally decided to make the forum virtual and Trump balked.
The Democratic National Committee counters that the GOP is trying to hide from the electorate. “Voters can count on hearing from President Biden and Vice President Harris, who are proud of their records,” said DNC chairperson Jaime Harrison in a statement. Harrison added that Republicans are trying to hide their “toxic policies” and “cannot win a fair fight.”
McDaniel emphasized the RNC is not withdrawing from the debate process altogether, just those organized by the CPD. The nonprofit commission is composed of members from both parties but has drawn the ire of several GOP candidates in recent elections.
Looking past the fact that presidential debates reveal little if anything new about candidates, they are still important for imaging. When one party constantly perceives bias in the process, enacting a few simple reforms should solve the issue. But if those are not possible, as seen in this case, a new platform might be needed.