RNC Threatens Debate Boycott If Trump’s Grievances With Format Aren’t Addressed

US President Donald Trump gestures after the first presidential debate at the Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio on September 29, 2020. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM W... US President Donald Trump gestures after the first presidential debate at the Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio on September 29, 2020. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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June 2, 2021 10:02 a.m.

Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel renewed former President Donald Trump’s grievances about the Commission on Presidential Debates, threatening in a letter to the commission Tuesday to discourage future Republican nominees against participating in presidential debates unless significant changes are made to the commission.

“The CPD’s repeated missteps and the partisan actions of its Board Members make clear that the organization no longer provides the fair and impartial forum for presidential debates which the law requires and the American people deserve,” she wrote to CPD co-chairs Frank Fahrenkopf and Kenneth Wollack.

The letter appeared to revisit attacks against the commission first made by Tump when he insisted last fall that the CPD was stacked against him and refused to participate in a virtual debate as an alternative to an in-person one after he tested positive for coronavirus.  

McDaniel took pains to revisit the debacle on Tuesday, arguing in the letter that without certain changes, the committee would be left with no choice but to advise all its future nominees to decline any general election debates hosted by the nonpartisan commission and instead “look for other options for its candidates.”

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“Our sincere hope is that the CPD accepts this criticism and works to correct its mistakes,” McDaniel said.

“If not, the RNC will have no choice but to advise future Republican candidates against participating in CPD-hosted debates,” she added.

Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s onetime lawyer, who is now saddled with legal troubles of his own, had previously cast doubt on the nonpartisan nature of the commission months before the 2020 presidential debates when Trump was flagging in the polls.

During a Fox News interview in August, he suggested that the schedule for the debates which began in late September, “undercuts the entire mission of the commission.”

He proposed a fourth debate and at that time also suggested several potential Trump-friendly moderators for the debate, including Bret Baier, Harris Faulkner, Hugh Hewitt, David Muir and Norah O’Donnell. 

In her own letter Tuesday, McDaniel suggested that the commission should enforce rules that would disqualify journalists “from consideration who have an appearance of bias due to personal, professional, or partisan factors” and lay out clear rules regarding how moderators should interact with candidates.

The letter from McDaniel was a lengthy review of Trump’s own grievances, dredging up his allegations of unfairness, and challenging the CPD’s decision about the timetable for the debates, the political leanings of some its board members and the selection of C-SPAN’s Steve Scully who worked for Biden decades earlier.

“It should be obvious, for instance, that no person should serve as a moderator who previously worked for one of the candidates,” McDaniel wrote.

McDaniel went on to thank Trump in her letter to the CPD co-chairs, for his “background in television,” which she said provided him the ability to recognize that the glass shields put in place to protect against coronavirus, would cause the candidates to see their reflections once the stage was lit.

“Had it not been caught by the President of the United States, the CPD’s unforced error would have caused a surprising and awkward distraction for both candidates once the cameras started to roll,” she said.

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