What Dems Should Do About The 2024 Debates
Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
January 15, 2022

The Republican Party's years-long effort to persuade Americans that general-election presidential debates are a liberal plot to make GOP candidates look bad has been kicked into high gear.

The Republican National Committee is preparing to change its rules to require presidential candidates seeking the party’s nomination to sign a pledge to not participate in any debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates....

The nonprofit commission, founded by the two parties in 1987 to codify the debates as a permanent part of presidential elections, describes itself as nonpartisan. But Republicans have complained for nearly a decade that its processes favor the Democrats, mirroring increasing rancor from conservatives toward Washington-based institutions....

The change requiring candidates to refuse participation in the commission’s debates is to be voted on at the R.N.C. winter meeting in Salt Lake City in February. If the R.N.C. moves forward with it, it is unclear what that would mean for future debates.

I'm fairly certain I know what this will mean for future debates: It will mean that Republicans plan to work on developing a GOP-friendly alternate debate process, which they will then push as fair and balanced, as opposed to the CPD's process, which they'll say favors "the radical-left Democrats." If there's any Democratic resistance to this process, they'll get the message machine cranked up and push a narrative saying that the Democratic nominee is dodging the debates.

And I expect the Democrat to capitulate, possibly after winning one or two concessions -- maybe one moderator who's never worked at Fox. The Republicans will play hardball, and they'll probably get their way.

If I were the Democrats, I'd start pushing back now. I'd declare that Republicans want to destroy an impartial institution because they're afraid of any dialogue with anyone who might disagree with them. I'd say that Republicans want the debates to be like Donald Trump interviews on Fox News -- "Mr. President, why are you so amazing? Is it hard to be an amazing as you are?"

And if Republicans hold firm, the Democratic nominee should simply go through with the CPD debate s-- with the demand that minor candidates be included. I know that conventional wisdom says that it's a terrible idea for a major-party presidential candidate to share a stage with minor-party candidates -- omigod, you're going to elevate a Green or a Libertarian to your level! That will diminish you! But at the state and local levels, mayoral and gubernatorial candidates do it all the time. In 2010, Andrew Cuomo survived a gubernatorial debate with, among other candidates, the "Rent Is Too Damn High" guy. Joe Biden (or Kamala Harris or Pete Buttigieg or whoever) can survive a debate with a Libertarian and a Green.

The point is to make the Republicans look like the outliers. It will be announced that the Republican nominee was invited to appear, and refused. That more than makes up for the possibility that a minor-party candidate might score a small gotcha or two on the Democrat.

This is a chance to make Republicans look like the angry extremists they are. But I'm afraid Democrats will pass up the opportunity.

Published with permission of No More Mr. Nice Blog

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