Mitt Romney, whose 2012 presidential campaign was set back when Candy Crowley sided with Barack Obama in a debate, has denounced the RNC’s proposal to bar Republican presidential candidates from participating in debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). Romney calls the proposal “nuts.”
The proposal comes from Romney’s niece, Ronna McDaniel.
Romney’s argument is this:
The American people want to see candidates for president debating issues of consequence to them, and it provides a service to the country and to the people, to hear the prospective candidates of the two major parties duke it out.
Reasonable people can disagree as to whether, on balance, presidential debates provide a service to the country. My view is that it’s marginally better to have them than not to.
However, it’s far from clear that dealing out the CPD would mean no presidential debates. Candidates and their representatives could negotiate the terms of debates without the CPD. Such debates would probably provide a greater service to the country, as they would likely rule out moderators like Crowley and Chris Wallace who want to join the debate on behalf of the Dem.
It’s also possible that the RNC’s stance will induce the CPD to adopt reforms that might reduce its pro-Democrat bias.
Another objection to an RNC pullout, more cogent in my view, is that it would be meaningless. Republican nominees make the final call on whether to participate in debates. If they ignore the “bar,” there wouldn’t be anything the RNC would likely do about it.
But ignoring the bar would still carry risk. The RNC wouldn’t do anything about it, but voters might.
Yielding to the CPD would signal weakness — an inability to stand up to the liberal media establishment. Depending on the Republican nominee, it might cause some in the conservative base to stay home on Election Day or to vote for a more combative third-party candidate.
Perhaps the most trenchant argument in favor of the RNC’s bar proposal comes from Matthew Continetti. He writes:
The commission is an odd fit for our unbundled, polarized, agenda-driven times. It harkens back to the so-called Great Convergence during the mid-20th century, when American politics, media, economy, and society were consolidated in massive, consensus-forming institutions. . . .
Nowadays the idea that a group of Washington fixers will work with mainstream-media outlets to set the rules for debates strikes one as anachronistic. No one trusts Washington fixers. No one has confidence in mainstream media. . . .
If the CPD does expire, it will be because its historical epoch has come to an end. The time has arrived for new institutions better suited to contemporary realities.