Image Courtesy of Los Angeles Times
By Chris Carey
The Republican National Committee withdrew from the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates on April 12, 2022, a decision that has been under consideration since January of the same year.
According to the Chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniel, “the Commission on Presidential Debates is biased and has refused to enact simple and common-sense reforms to help ensure fair debates including hosting debates before voting begins and selecting moderators who have never worked for candidates on the debate stage.”
On its website, the Commission on Presidential Debates describes itself as “a nonprofit, nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) corporation, [that] sponsored all of the presidential debates in 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2020.”
The organization has repeatedly stressed the importance of its explicitly nonpartisan foundation and that its “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,” which is included in a response to initial Republican efforts to withdraw earlier this year.
The history of the Commission on Presidential Debates includes successfully executed debates that are expressly nonpartisan, and widely considered effective formats for the American public to better understand the policies, temperaments, and qualifications of those that would seek the highest office in the land.
Also, a part of that history is the formation of the organization. In 1987, both the Democratic and Republican parties came together to establish the Commission on Presidential Debates “to ensure, for the benefit of the American electorate, that general election debates between or among the leading candidates for the offices of President and Vice President of the United States are a permanent part of the electoral process.”
Notably, candidates and organizations on both sides of the aisle have directed criticism toward the performance of the moderators of the debates in the past. Some examples include Democratic critique of Jim Lehrer during a 2012 debate between President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Willard Mitt Romney. In that same cycle, Republicans found fault with moderator Candy Crowley.
Needless to say, both Republicans and Democrats have found fault with the individual moderators for their performances during debates, but the institution itself had faced minimal if any, criticism until the age of former President Donald Trump.
Following Trump’s public and frequent criticisms of the debate moderators as part of his larger assault on mainstream media both in 2016 and 2020, the Republican National Committee came to its April 12 decision, effectively condoning and echoing the former President’s sentiments of an unfair institution of elections and the electoral process.
What this may mean for the future of presidential debates is unclear. 2024 approaches not so far down the road, and should the American people desire any sort of public forum for good faith debating between candidates, some resolution is required. For now, however, the only mystery remains as the bipartisanly founded Commission on Presidential Debates has lost one of its two founding partners.