The Republican National Committee would consider circumventing major television networks if the presidential debate process is not overhauled, Citizens United President David Bossie said Friday.
“We don’t need to count on just the networks,” Bossie told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. “There are so many opportunities out there, so many platforms out there that we can go to and partner with to get the message out.”
Bossie was light on the details about what GOP debates without a partner network would look like, noting that the RNC is still early in its process for 2024 debate planning. Officials from both political parties exert more control over how their respective primary debates are structured, something that Bossie — who is helping to lead the RNC reform effort — said his party is actively exploring.
Both political parties have historically partnered with news networks to stage primary debates, as opposed to general election debates which are put on by the Commission on Presidential Debates, which has overseen those forums since 1988. Bossie, in his interview with Hewitt, said that Republicans have been especially dismayed by what he characterized as grandstanding moderators.
“We have to not allow bad actors to infiltrate our debate process,” he said, defining them as “moderators who aren’t really trying to ask questions to make the candidates front and center.
“They’re asking questions really not to impact primary Republican voters, but to have ‘gotcha’ questions and answers for the general election debate, because they all want to see their question and answer played during the general election,” he added.
The RNC is demanding major reforms to how general election debates are held, including who is selected to moderate them and the terms under which they are held, arguing that the current system is systematically biased against Republicans.
RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel earlier this month fired off a letter to the heads of the Commission on Presidential Debates, lambasting the organization for what the GOP argued is “repeated missteps and partisan actions that underscored its biases” and demanding a host of changes.
The 2020 debates were the source of much Republican criticism during the presidential campaign, including the CPD’s decision to allow moderators to cut the candidates’ microphones after the factitious first debate between Joe Biden and then-President Donald Trump in an effort to impose order on the proceedings — moving the second scheduled debate to a remote format, before ultimately canceling it, following Trump’s hospitalization with Covid-19 — as well as its choice of moderators such as C-SPAN host Steve Scully.
Among the demands, the RNC called for term limits for CPD members, additional rules on how debate moderators are chosen as well as a “transparent code of conduct” for them to operate under.
In her letter, McDaniel threatened to advise Republican presidential candidates to boycott CPD-sponsored events if it chose not to revamp its process.
“We do need a neutral body to host the presidential debates,” Bossie said Friday. “Whether we can work with them and help fix the system, or have to turn to another entity, is still yet to be determined.”
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