RNC warns it will advise presidential candidates against future debates if panel doesn't make changes

Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel Tuesday warned she may advise future presidential candidates against joining debates hosted by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) unless the group makes significant changes.

The letter from McDaniel follows a flood of criticism from former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump hails Arizona Senate for audit at Phoenix rally, slams governor Arkansas governor says it's 'disappointing' vaccinations have become 'political' Watch live: Trump attends rally in Phoenix MORE during the 2020 race complaining that format adjustments to health guidance during the coronavirus pandemic were unfair. McDaniel laid out a slate of changes she believes must be made and threatened that Republicans will be advised to boycott CPD-hosted debates if they are not. 

"The CPD's repeated missteps and the partisan actions of its Board Members make clear that the organization no longer provides the fair and impartial forum for presidential debates which the law requires and the American people deserve," McDaniel wrote.

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"Our sincere hope is that the CPD accepts this criticism and works to correct its mistakes," she added. "If not, the RNC will have no choice but to advise future Republican candidates against participating in CPD-hosted debates, and the RNC will look for other options for its candidates to debate the issues before the American people in a neutral and nonpartisan forum."

McDaniel demanded a slate of changes, including placing term limits on CPD’s board of directors, enacting a “code of conduct” barring CPD staff from making public comments in support or opposition to any candidate, committing to hosting at least one debate before the start of early voting in any state and publicizing criteria for selecting moderators. 

McDaniel also requested a response from CPD by July 31. The group did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.

The RNC chairwoman doubled down on her threat in a statement to The Hill, accusing the CPD of failing to provide a “fair and impartial forum” in 2020.

“The Republican Party needs assurances that the CPD will make meaningful reforms to the debate process by working with stakeholders to restore the faith and legitimacy it has lost. If not, as RNC Chairman, I will have no choice but to advise future Republican candidates against participating in CPD-hosted debates,” she said.

The CPD, a nonpartisan forum that has put on presidential and vice presidential debates since 1988, came under withering criticism from Republicans during the presidential race. 

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Trump issued a slew of condemnations over perceived bias he said some of the moderators harbored, and the CPD ended up canceling the second debate between Trump and now-President BidenJoe BidenTrump hails Arizona Senate for audit at Phoenix rally, slams governor Republicans focus tax hike opposition on capital gains change Biden on hecklers: 'This is not a Trump rally. Let 'em holler' MORE after Trump said he would not accept a virtual format following his COVID-19 diagnosis.

McDaniel cited several other complaints, including that the first debate was held after the start of early voting in eight states, the proposed use of plexiglass and controversial comments made by C-SPAN's Steve Scully, who had been tapped to moderate a debate. 

“For too long, the CPD has failed to meet its responsibility to presidential candidates and American voters nationwide in providing a neutral forum for candidate debates,” McDaniel wrote. “This situation is intolerable, and the RNC can no longer give the CPD the benefit of the doubt. The CPD must act now to undertake meaningful reforms and work with stakeholders to restore the faith and legitimacy it has lost.” 

The letter from McDaniel is the latest example of Trump’s lingering sway over the party and the GOP’s willingness to back up his grievances.

The RNC in February also announced the formation of a Committee on Election Integrity that will advocate for “election transparency,” jumping off Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in November.