The marketplace of ideas is closed for business.
More than 30 years after joining with Democrats in one of the last gasps of bipartisan cooperation, the Republican Party stands poised to walk away from what has become one of the most recognizable, high-profile features of the electoral process: presidential debates.
In a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel notified the decades-old independent body created as a neutral arbiter to manage the debate process that her party will soon vote on a rule change requiring any GOP candidate to reject the commission and its events.
“So long as the CPD appears intent on stonewalling the meaningful reforms necessary to restore its credibility with the Republican Party as a fair and nonpartisan actor, the RNC will take every step to ensure that future Republican presidential nominees are given that opportunity elsewhere,” the letter, delivered Thursday to CPD co-chairs Frank Fahrenkopf and Kenneth Wollack, warns.
The RNC’s ultimatum comes after nearly a year of back and forth between the party and the CPD, and follows former President Donald Trump’s characteristically self-pitying crusade against what he deemed a “very biased” body stacked with “Trump Haters and Never Trumpers” during the 2020 race. (He lodged similar complaints in 2016.) It’s that sentiment which seems to have energized the RNC’s impending pull-out from the commission — to be voted on at the party’s winter meeting in February — and suggests a not-so-subtle degree of planning on the part of Republicans for the increasing likelihood that Trump will run for office again in 2024. It also reflects the party’s broader embrace of aggrieved victimhood as a core tenet, as its base aggressively rejects anything with the semblance of institutional authority, no matter how benign.
Conversely, it also highlights a party seemingly unprepared or unwilling to have its candidate actually engage in a substantive conversation to defend their conservative ideals.
“The CPD deals directly with candidates for president and vice president who qualify for participation,” the commission said in a statement to The New York Times, which first reported the RNC’s letter. “The CPD’s plans for 2024 will be based on fairness, neutrality, and a firm commitment to help the American public learn about the candidates and the issues.”
Should the RNC fully block participation of any CPD-sponsored event, it’s unclear what would happen with presidential general election debates moving forward, and how – if at all — they would be negotiated between candidates. Still, the commission has left open the door for possibly continuing to negotiate with the RNC to stave off a total defection by the party.
“We take the RNC’s observations and suggestions seriously and, as we have said previously, we will give them careful consideration,” the group’s statement to the Times continued. “In furtherance of our position as a nonpartisan, neutral body, which neither favors nor disfavors any party or candidate, we do not negotiate the terms or conditions of our operations with anyone.”