Debates Commission Is Part of the Washington Swamp
It’s time to debate. After months of political posturing, Americans deserve to see President Trump and Joe Biden come face to face, explaining their policy platforms and outlining their visions for the future.
But the Commission on Presidential Debates stands in the way. Created in 1987 with noble intentions, CPD’s purpose was to ensure that general election debates remain a part of the electoral process. However, as so often happens in Washington, D.C., the nonprofit organization has morphed into something quite different today: CPD is now an entrenched part of the Washington swamp, leveraging its bureaucratic presence to exert undue influence over presidential elections.
Originally, CPD was set up and staffed under the Republican and Democratic party committees, with the two party chairs being the CPD co-chairs. As party leaders, they would work closely with the campaigns. In the 33 years since its founding, the original Republican has not relinquished his role, even though the party itself has had 14 chairs since then and none have served on the debate commission as intended. The same is true of the DNC chairs, who have not played their intended role.
Last month, CPD rejected the Trump campaign’s request to modify the presidential debate schedule, so that the first debate could occur before states begin early voting. Certainly a reasonable request, moving up the timeline would make sure that all Americans could see the candidates square off before the first ballots are cast. Alas, CPD nixed the idea for no apparent reason.
Notably, the Biden campaign remained silent, determined to stay out of the public spotlight for as long as possible. Whereas President Trump is eager to take down his Democratic opponent, even supporting an additional debate hosted by Joe Rogan, Biden is anything but enthusiastic. For months now, he has employed a “bunker strategy” to duck questions and cut down on his now-infamous gaffes. A presidential debate would force Biden out of hiding, which he and his staffers are determined to push off for as long as possible.
Of course, the true losers are the early voters, who cannot see the Democratic nominee come out of his shell before their votes are determined. Therein lies the true failure of the Commission on Presidential Debates. CPD’s bureaucrats could have expedited the first debate for the greater good, forcing Biden to confront the voters who demand his presence. In line with its mission statement, CPD could have “improve[d] the quality of debates” by introducing the first debate as a barometer for early voters.
It is now clear that CPD has outlived its purpose. Determining presidential debates, including their format, timing, and location, should be a negotiation between the two campaigns and the news outlets that will broadcast them. CPD is a needless additional party at this point, and one with an apparent anti-Trump bias. (CPD’s co-chairs publicly criticized the Trump campaign for daring to suggest an earlier debate.)
We didn’t always need CPD to monitor American democracy. As the manager of President Reagan’s 1984 reelection campaign, I was part of the last debate negotiation between two presidential campaigns. Together with the Mondale campaign, we quickly determined the format, timing, and location of the 1984 debates. And they worked, without a hitch.
Our presidential elections should return to that simpler, more effective model. It would get rid of bureaucratic delay and protect candidates — Democrat and Republican — from outright bias, which we are seeing today.
At a time when Joe Biden continues to hide, Americans don’t need a bureaucratic entity condoning his cowardice. What they need is for President Trump and his opponent to face off — mano a mano.