“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,” McDaniel claimed.
“Our sincere hope is that the CPD accepts this criticism and works to correct its mistakes,” she went on. “If not, the RNC will have no choice but to advise future Republican candidates against participating in CPD-hosted debates, and the RNC will look for other options for its candidates to debate the issues before the American people in a neutral and nonpartisan forum.”
Because if there’s one thing the Trump RNC wants, it’s “neutral and nonpartisan.” Seriously, though, presidential debates could use a serious revamp, but doing it in the image of Donald Trump is not exactly the path to neutral and nonpartisan. Once again, Republicans are trying to work the refs to get themselves the most favorable possible treatment.
The RNC is upset that one of the debates was moderated by C-SPAN’s Steve Scully, who worked for Biden four decades ago, and whined that some CPD board members had “gone on record making disparaging comments about President Trump,” clearly the ultimate sin. For the record, one of the CPD’s chairs is a former chair of the Republican National Committee. Two of its board members are former Republican senators. Another is the president of Notre Dame University who famously got COVID-19 after his unmasked attendance at the White House superspreader event for Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination. There are also Democrats on the board, but there is plenty of Republican representation. (Power and money, above all, are what is represented on the CPD.)
Additionally, the RNC called for the first debate to be held before early voting begins in any state—possibly not an unreasonable request, albeit one that could have hurt Trump in 2020, given his painful-to-watch, bullying, interruption-filled performance in the first debate—and demanded that late-breaking format changes be prohibited, after the CPD tried to change the second 2020 debate to be remote thanks to Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis. That one gives the game away, since it’s extremely unlikely that the CPD would be trying to institute late changes to a debate format absent extenuating circumstances like a deadly pandemic and a debate participant who was recovering from the disease in question and was suspected of having already been infected at the time of the first debate. This demand isn’t about 2024. It’s about making sure Trump sees McDaniel out there fighting his battles for him—even the irrelevant ones from last year.
The RNC throwing its weight around on behalf of Trump’s personal grievances is unsurprising, even if the specific choice of the Commission on Presidential Debates as a target is worthy of a big old eyeroll. But it’s part of a broader—and dangerous—pattern of the Republican Party moving strongly to echo Trump’s hostility to anything that might rein in his authoritarian tendencies and make him follow the same rules as others. Performative sucking up to Trump by relitigating the 2020 debates and lobbing threats about 2024 is part of the same phenomenon that has Arizona Republicans scanning ballots for bamboo fibers to try to prove that the election was stolen, that has state after state passing viciously restrictive and flagrantly racist voting restriction laws, and that led to Rep. Liz Cheney being thrown out of House Republican leadership for insisting that it’s wrong to try to overturn elections. The Republican Party is becoming—or has become—an authoritarian cult of personality.