Analysis: RNC debate decision shows Donald Trump’s not-so-hidden hand

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RNC chair Ronna McDaniel called the Commission on Presidential Debates – which is non-partisan and has a co-chair who was once the RNC chair – as ‘biased’ in a report and said he had “refused to enact simple, common-sense reforms to help ensure fair debates, including holding debates before voting begins and selecting moderators who have never worked for candidates on the stage of the debate”.

(If you didn’t know that statement came from McDaniel, I bet I could convince you it was from Trump. Right?)

This decision has been in the works for months now. In January, McDaniel made it clear that the RNC wanted more input into choosing moderators for the three general election debates. “As long as the CPD appears determined to block the meaningful reforms needed to restore its credibility with the Republican Party as a fair and non-partisan actor, the RNC will take whatever action is necessary to ensure that future Republican presidential candidates have that opportunity elsewhere,” McDaniel wrote in a letter to the commission at the time.

Such a decision would be completely unthinkable before Trump’s rise within the party. The CPD has been around since 1987, and until Trump came onto the scene, it was widely seen as a paragon of neutrality in an increasingly polarized political world.

While the campaigns have squabbled over the details of the debates, it was previously clear that the party’s two leading candidates would participate. Trump changed all that in 2020 when he refused to be part of the second general election debate after the CPD changed it to a virtual rally to address concerns about the spread of Covid-19.

“The commission changed the style of debate and that is not acceptable to us,” Trump said at the time.
(Note: According to a book by former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, Trump had tested positive for Covid-19 three days before the first general election debate. Trump received a negative test result soon after. soon after, Meadows wrote.)
Trump also skipped a debate during the 2016 Republican primary campaign because – you guessed it! — he didn’t like the host, especially Megyn Kelly, with whom he had clashed. “Let’s see how much money Fox will make on the debate without me, shall we?” Trump declared his decision to skip the debate. He hosted a separate event during the debate and later lost the Iowa caucuses to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Now, much like his factless obsession with voter fraud in the 2020 election, Trump has made opinions on the debate system a litmus test of support for him. Either you say that the debates are biased against Asset Republicans, or you can expect the former president to consider you insignificantly loyal. Which explains why McDaniel went so far.

Make no mistake: this RNC decision probably won’t happen without Trump’s insistence. And the fact that the RNC is breaking with the CPD is proof, as if it needed more, that the former President is still MUCH in control of the Republican Party.

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