WASHINGTON — The next presidential election is almost three and a half years away, and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel is already warning that her party's nominee may not participate in debates.
McDaniel told the Commission on Presidential Debates, which has staged debates since 1988, in a three-page letter that it “no longer provides the fair and impartial forum" that "the American people deserve.”
The presidential debates became a contentious topic during the 2020 election. Then-President Donald Trump was diagnosed with Covid-19 shortly after the first debate, prompting the commission to convert the second debate to a virtual format, which Trump then refused to participate in.
Even before the debates, Trump made criticizing them a frequent part of his campaign stump speech, using his complaints about the format and organization to try to bolster his message that forces were actively trying to undermine him at all times.
“It is inexcusable and self-defeating, for instance, that the CPD waited to host a single debate,” McDaniel said, until after the start of early voting in eight states, absentee voting in 26 states and uniformed and overseas voting in all 50 states.
Trump's campaign asked that the 2020 debates be moved up to account for early voting, but the CPD denied his requests. The argument was viewed by critics as part of Trump's attempt to paint Biden as senile, and he then complained when the debates weren't rescheduled that it was a ploy to shield his Democratic opponents from scrutiny.
McDaniel said that the commission “deprived voters of a meaningful opportunity to hear from the candidates before heading to the polls.”
The head of the GOP said that she would tell future Republican candidates not to participate in debates unless the CPD implements changes.
She wants at least one debate scheduled to take place before early voting begins.
She also called on the CPD to establish “transparent” criteria for the selection of moderators and a code of conduct for them — echoing Trump's criticism about members of the media being selected to moderate debates.
She said the RNC wants term limits for the CPD’s board of directors — which was designed to be bipartisan and include members of both parties — after she said a number of them made “disparaging” comments about Trump.
McDaniel asked that the CPD reply to her request by the end of July.
Trump has not formally announced plans to run for president again in 2024, but will be returning to the political circuit in the coming weeks. He’s scheduled to be the main speaker at the North Carolina Republican Party's state convention on Saturday and is expected to hold rallies this month and next.