The Republican National Committee on Thursday voted unanimously to withdraw from the Commission on Presidential Debates, following through on threats to bar GOP presidential nominees from participating in debates sponsored by the nonprofit organization.
In a statement Thursday, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said that her party is “committed to free and fair debates” but that they would be held through other platforms. She did not specify them.
“Debates are an important part of the democratic process … We are going to find newer, better debate platforms to ensure that future nominees are not forced to go through the biased CPD in order to make their case to the American people,” she said.
McDaniel said the commission had refused to make changes the RNC had requested, including hosting debates before early voting begins and “selecting moderators who have never worked for candidates on the debate stage.” The latter was a reference to would-be 2020 debate host Steve Scully of C-SPAN, who was an intern for Joe Biden for one month in 1978, when Biden was a senator from Delaware. The debate Scully was scheduled to moderate wound up being canceled after Trump objected to holding it virtually because of coronavirus concerns.
Representatives for the Commission on Presidential Debates and the Democratic National Committee did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.
In January, after McDaniel sent the debates commission a letter saying the RNC had lost confidence in the organization, CPD Co-Chairman Frank J. Fahrenkopf said the RNC “wanted to control things we aren’t prepared to let them control.”
He also noted that the commission deals “directly” with the candidates for president and vice president who qualify for general-election debates, not their party organizations.
“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,” Fahrenkopf said in a statement then.
Trump’s repeated attacks on the commission during the 2020 election caused at least one commission member — a Republican — to break his “strict vow of silence” regarding his personal feelings about the presidential campaign. John C. Danforth wrote then that Trump’s accusations were simply wrong and contributed to the eroded trust in the democratic process. He also defended the moderators chosen by the commission as “highly professional and experienced.”
“Some have suggested that the Commission on Presidential Debates disband, and that in future campaigns the candidates simply negotiate the debate rules among themselves,” Danforth wrote then. “Good luck with that.”
John Wagner and Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.