One of the defining moments of any US presidential election – the televised debate – was called into question by the Republican Party’s decision on Thursday to withdraw from the Commission on Presidential Debates.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) has grumbled that the group that has been leading the debates since 1988 is biased and refuses to enact reforms. He promised to “find new and better platforms for debate” in the future.
The long-threatened move was proof of the RNC’s continued eagerness to respond to bidding by former President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly complained about the timing and formats of debates and the choice of moderators.
But in a week that also saw the Democratic National Committee decide that Iowa and New Hampshire are no longer guaranteed coming first in the party’s presidential nomination process was also a reminder that seemingly unchanging traditions are fragile.
the Committee on Presidential Debates was founded in 1987 as a nonprofit organization sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans to codify the debates in the ongoing framework of presidential elections.
But he faced criticism from various quarters. Republicans in particular have complained that he favors Democrats since the Barack Obama versus Mitt Romney debates a decade ago.
Trump, as always, took grievance to a new level and refused to participate in what was to be the second of three debates with Joe Biden in 2020 after the commission made him virtual following the then president’s coronavirus infection.
“He has a long-standing dispute with the commission,” said Aaron Kal, debate director at the University of Michigan. “He thinks the roster is a bunch of Never Trumpers and the game was stacked against him and they didn’t give him a good jolt.
“In some ways, it’s a bargaining ploy if that particular commission isn’t involved. I think there will still probably be debates, but there will be negotiations for when and where and who is the moderator. So if he’s a candidate again, maybe that will give him more leverage.
The RNC is chaired by Ronna McDaniel, a Trump loyalist who has shown a determination to enforce his will. Earlier this year, the RNC censored Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, two Republicans who broke with Trump to serve on the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol.
If Trump were the party’s nominee in the 2024 presidential election, McDaniel would no doubt push for debates to suit his whims — a potentially difficult and complicated negotiation with TV networks, social media companies, groups reflection or other entities.
Kall continued, “The Commission on Presidential Debates has been doing this for several decades, but it wasn’t the first; they will not be the last. I don’t think anyone will shed a tear if the debates we will have in the next cycle are not sponsored by the commission.
“But it will be a bit of the Wild West and everyone will want to be involved in a debate. They attract tens of millions of viewers. There are very few events these days, given our bifurcation, that command respect for the debates. We basically have the Super Bowl, the presidential debates, the inaugural address, the State of the Union – it’s very rare.
The value of debates has been questioned in this highly partisan and fragmented media age. This month Republican Herschel walker and Democrat John Fetterman skipped the primary debates in Georgia and Pennsylvania, respectively.
Now, the Commission on Presidential Debates may have passed its sell-by date. Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, said, “I’m just surprised it’s taken this long. It’s all about Trump, really, but there’s another segment of people who have looked at this and the whole system is outdated and it’s run by the same people who’ve run it for decades.
“That’s why I’m a little torn. I certainly don’t agree with Trump’s reasoning for doing this, but I think the system needs to be turned upside down. It won’t because they’re just trying to avoid the tough questions and they won’t want neutral anchors and reporters asking questions. They are going to want supporters. They want Fox’s morning show hosts.
Presidential debates were first made famous by John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960, but then didn’t happen until 1976. Sabato added, “We actually went 16 years without presidential debates until which they take back because both candidates needed it in 1976.
“We believed for a moment that it was so well established that the candidates could not avoid the debates; they should participate. Well, that just goes to show that nothing is permanent. It doesn’t hurt anyone to say no. All they have to do is tell their followers, “This thing is against us.” You know how those horrible media people are.