GOP tries to kill presidential debate commission | News, Sports, Jobs


WASHINGTON — A high point in American politics is threatened with extinction by the Republican National Committee’s threat to boycott the quadrennial presidential debates conducted by a bipartisan independent commission.

Ronna McDaniel, the chair of the RNC, wrote to Frank Fahrenkopf, the Republican co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, that GOP voters have “lost confidence in your organization”, and the RNC will therefore act “to prohibit future Republican candidates from participating” in them. Such a measure would deprive voters of perhaps the most anticipated event of the presidential election season.

Fahrenkopf, widely seen as a moderate voice in his party, noted that the commission deals directly with the candidates it invites to debates. In 2024, he says, his plans “will be based on fairness, neutrality and a firm commitment to helping the American public learn about the candidates and the issues.”

McDaniel cited as his reason for balking at the commission “a flagrant conflict of interest” in the 2020 debate between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden. She said she chose a moderator, Steve Scully, who had previously interned at Biden when he was a senator. But the debate was canceled due to coronavirus fears.

McDaniel also complained that the 2020 debate took place after early voting in some states, and Trump accused the commission of being filled with “Trump Haters and Never Trumpers.” He also hesitated for a while before deciding he wanted heavy TV exposure and, according to some observers, thought he could outshine Biden.

But the final debate proved otherwise. Biden, accused in the past of verbal gaffes, more than held his own in an election that turned out to be a referendum on Trump’s own political credentials, compared to Biden’s resume as a senator and vice president. -President.

In record turnout, Trump won 74 million popular votes, but fell 7 million votes to Biden’s 81 million and lost in the Electoral College. Vice President Mike Pence, presiding over the count, rejected Trump’s urgent request to declare it in his favor.

Presidential debates have become a closely watched institution every four years since the 1960 race between Democrat John F. Kennedy and Republican Richard M. Nixon. Post-election polls indicated that the younger Kennedy’s self-assurance and personal charm in their debate won out. Subsequent televised debates have also been essential vehicles for all candidates.

In 2016, by most assessments, Trump did not shine in his televised meetings with Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, but she saw her own shortcomings. She narrowly won the popular vote but Trump won the deciding Electoral College, 304 votes to Clinton’s 227, a result that lifted Trump to his surprising upset victory.

In 2024, it seems unlikely that Trump will comply with an edict from the RNC to stay out of a rematch with Biden, when it could be his best chance to win back the Oval Office.

(Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power”, published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at [email protected])

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