Republicans to presidential debate commission: We won't debate in 2024 unless there are changes

WASHINGTON – The Republican Party told the presidential debate commission Thursday that its White House nominee won't participate in 2024 unless organizers make major changes.

The GOP "has a duty to ensure that its future presidential nominees have the opportunity to debate their opponents on a level playing field," said a letter to the commission from Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee.

President Donald Trump, left, and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden participate in the second and final presidential debate on Oct. 22.

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During negotiations with the commission in recent months, Republican National Committee members echoed long-standing protests about the system lodged by Trump during his 2016 campaign and his 2020 re-election campaign.

It is unclear if the Republican Party can make a prohibition stick: Candidates make decisions to participate in debates, not political parties, as the commission pointed out in a response to the RNC letter.

"The CPD deals directly with candidates for President and Vice President who qualify for participation in the CPD’s general election debates," the commission said. "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."

According to the letter, the Republicans have demanded changes that include holding the first debate before the start of early voting.

The RNC's temporary presidential debate committee – led by former Trump campaign adviser David Bossie – also wants "transparent criteria" for picking debate moderators in order to avoid conflicts of interest due to "partisan factors."

Another demand: A "code of conduct" for the moderators themselves, including "guidelines for appropriate interactions with the participating nominees."

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Trump clashed with and criticized debate moderators Chris Wallace and Kristen Welker during the last debates, though both won bipartisan praise for handling contentious face-offs between Trump and President Joe Biden. One of their challenges was keeping Trump to required time limits.

Trump and the Republicans also protested new rules created in 2020 that enabled moderators to turn off microphones if candidates went on too long.

The former president is considering another run for the presidency in 2024.

If the Commission on Presidential Debate does not make changes, McDaniel wrote, the RNC will amend its party rules and "prohibit future Republican nominees from participating in CPD-sponsored debates."

Republican opponents mocked the proposed debate pullout, saying the party doesn't want to expose its nominee to defeat.

Laurence Tribe, a law professor emeritus at Harvard, said it's not surprising that "a political party that doesn't really believe in democracy" wants to avoid debates.

"Why debate the issues if the issues don't count, truth doesn't matter, and the only election outcome you'll honor is a win?" Tribe said.

Pollster Frank Luntz said the fall presidential debates every four years "are watched by people around the world," and are among "the last remaining strengths in our increasingly shaky democracy."

"It would be a tragedy if we were to abandon them," he said.