RNC, Trump campaign push back on changing debate rules

The Republican National Committee and Trump campaign are signaling they will oppose changes to the presidential debate structure after the nonpartisan commission that manages the events said it is exploring potential adjustments following the chaotic contest in Cleveland.

Appearing on Fox News, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said that the commission should not make any adjustments without the support of both campaigns and that the rules should not be changed “in the middle of the campaign,” after both sides agreed to specific parameters.

McDaniel also suggested that the Commission on Presidential Debates was pursuing changes in order to assist Democratic nominee Joe Biden, arguing that the former vice president “got away” without answering tough questions at the first debate.

“I hope the Committee on Presidential Debates does not change the rules to once again protect Joe Biden from answering to the American people,” McDaniel said.

McDaniel indicated she does not support a change that would see either candidates’ microphone cut off if they break the rules after President Trump repeatedly interrupted moderator Chris Wallace and Biden during Tuesday night’s debate.

“I don’t think you should be changing the rules that they have agreed to and I do not think this commission has the right to just arbitrarily change rules without talking to both candidates and getting agreement and input from both sides,” McDaniel said when asked if she would support such a change.

Wallace also told The New York Times in an interview following the debate that he opposed moderators having the power to cut off candidates’ microphones, arguing it wouldn’t succeed in reducing disruptions.

McDaniel said the one change she would suggest is that the moderator not move on to the next segment until the candidate answers a question, noting that Biden did not answer whether he supports packing the Supreme Court when asked by Wallace toward the beginning of the Cleveland debate. 

“Maybe then we’ll get a real answer from Joe Biden as to how he is honestly going to govern,” McDaniel said on Fox. “Do you support the Green New Deal? Do support law and order? Are you going to stack the Supreme Court? Are you going to get rid of the filibuster?”

“They came out hot and they went after each other, and these are grown men and they’re going to be on the world stage and they can handle a debate,” she added later. “I don’t think that we need to put parameters in to make sure that it is softer and easier and nicer.”

The commission said in a statement on Wednesday that it would weigh structural changes to the debates following Tuesday’s contest, which was marred by interruptions and insults that overshadowed any real policy discussion.

“Last night’s debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues,” the commission said in a statement. “The CPD will be carefully considering the changes that it will adopt and will announce those measures shortly.”

CBS News reported that the commission plans to implement a change that would cut off Trump’s or Biden’s microphone if either candidate breaks the rules.

Trump has faced criticism from Republicans over his performance during the debate; they argue he squandered an opportunity to change the course of the race and potentially hurt his standing among some voters. 

Still, Trump projected confidence in his performance on Wednesday and signaled he looked forward to the next debate, before claiming that Biden does not want to move forward with the second event despite his campaign saying otherwise.

At a briefing later Thursday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany did not directly answer when asked whether Trump would commit to participating in the next debate before the rules were changed, saying only that he desires a “fair” contest. 

“He thinks the only way there is a fair debate is a change in the moderator and a change in the Democrat nominee,” McEnany told reporters. “He wants to debate. He plans on being at the debate, but he wants the rules to be fair and wants a fair exchange and doesn’t want rules that cover for a certain candidate’s inability to perform well.”

The Trump campaign reacted to the commission’s announcement on Wednesday by accusing it of pursuing changes that would help Biden.

“They’re only doing this because their guy got pummeled last night,” campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said in a statement. “President Trump was the dominant force and now Joe Biden is trying to work the refs. They shouldn’t be moving the goalposts and changing the rules in the middle of the game.”

Tuesday’s debate was the first of three meetings between Trump and Biden. The next contests will take place on Oct. 15 and Oct. 22. Vice President Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Biden’s running mate, will participate in the single vice presidential debate on Wednesday. 

—Updated at 12:32 p.m.

Tags Chris Wallace Donald Trump Joe Biden Mike Pence Ronna McDaniel

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