Presidential Debates As We Know Them May Be Over

And in the right corner … no one. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Republican leaders are once again following Donald Trump’s lead — this time on presidential debates. Nearly six years after the ex-president first described the Commission on Presidential Debates as a “rigged” organization he was “done” with, the Republican National Committee voted unanimously Thursday to withdraw its participation from the nonpartisan nonprofit group that has been organizing the forums since 1987.

In a statement to CNN following the vote, RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel echoed Trump’s complaints, stating that the commission is “biased and has refused to enact simple and commonsense reforms to help ensure fair debates.”

It’s concerning that the presidential debates, which debuted in 1960 and have been a staple since their reintroduction in 1976, might die out because a party in the midst of a long anti-democratic backslide refuses to play ball. This should not, however, come as a surprise. For months now, the RNC has promised its noncooperation unless the commission changed the rules in its favor. Among the grievances the RNC listed in January were the “unilateral changes to previously agreed-upon debate formats and conditions, in some cases without even notifying the candidates.” This appears to be a reference to the first 2020 debate between Trump and Joe Biden, which the incumbent rendered mostly worthless by interrupting constantly. As a result of that debacle, the moderator of the second debate (which ended up not happening because Trump got COVID-19) was cleared to mute the candidates’ microphones at certain times.

McDaniel added that the RNC intends to find “newer, better debate platforms” for its candidates to reach voters. According to The Wall Street Journal, this will involve requiring its presidential candidates to sign pledges to appear only at GOP-sanctioned primary- and general-election debates — suggesting that moderators will not be keen to correct whatever misinformation the party is spreading in two years’ time.

Presidential Debates As We Know Them May Be Over