R.N.C. Signals a Pullout From Presidential Debates

The Republican National Committee is preparing to change its rules to require presidential candidates seeking the party’s nomination to sign a pledge to not participate in any debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

Republican committee officials alerted the debate commission to their plans in a letter sent on Thursday, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times. If the change goes forward, it would be one of the most substantial shifts in how presidential and vice-presidential debates have been conducted since the commission began organizing debates more than 30 years ago.

The nonprofit commission, founded by the two parties in 1987 to codify the debates as a permanent part of presidential elections, describes itself as nonpartisan. But Republicans have complained for nearly a decade that its processes favor the Democrats, mirroring increasing rancor from conservatives toward Washington-based institutions.

The move by the R.N.C. was an outgrowth of those long-held complaints and came after months of discussions between the commission and party officials. According to the R.N.C.’s letter, the chairman of the party’s temporary presidential debate committee, David Bossie, began discussions last year with the debate commission’s co-chairman, Frank Fahrenkopf, a former Republican official.

The Republican Party chairwoman, Ronna McDaniel, had demanded that changes be made to the commission and how the debates were held, writing in a letter to the commission in June that the party and its voters had lost faith in the commission.

The change requiring candidates to refuse participation in the commission’s debates is to be voted on at the R.N.C. winter meeting in Salt Lake City in February. If the R.N.C. moves forward with it, it is unclear what that would mean for future debates. But it would change the approach to be similar to what happened before the commission existed, when the two parties or campaigns had to negotiate directly and agree on terms, or no debates would take place.

Commission officials have privately complained that R.N.C. leaders have conflated the processes around primary debates with those in the general election, which are the only ones the commission is involved with. They have also complained that the commission historically deals with campaigns and not with party committees. While the eventual nominee could decide to debate, there’s far more energy in the G.O.P. base behind abandoning institutions than there used to be.

Circumstances could always change and the R.N.C. could choose not to go ahead with the planned rules change. But Ms. McDaniel has walked far out on a limb with her latest letter, and the commission, which usually negotiates with the nominees’ campaigns, is showing no sign of making the R.N.C. a negotiating partner.

“The C.P.D. deals directly with candidates for President and Vice President who qualify for participation,” the commission said in a statement. “The C.P.D.’s plans for 2024 will be based on fairness, neutrality and a firm commitment to help the American public learn about the candidates and the issues.”

One major concern for the R.N.C. was the timing of the first debate in the 2024 election cycle.

In 2020, more than one million ballots were cast before the first presidential debate on Sept. 29 that year, after some states changed their election rules because of the coronavirus pandemic and expanded both absentee and early voting. The party has been pushing the commission to host a debate before early voting begins in 2024.

Former President Donald J. Trump has criticized the commission since his first campaign, against Hillary Clinton in 2016, when he complained that one of its co-chairs, Mike McCurry, was a White House press secretary under President Bill Clinton. He also complained then that the debates were being held at the same time as N.F.L. games. Mr. McCurry later condemned Mr. Trump’s attacks on the media as president.

Officials with the commission told the R.N.C. in December that one of the party’s demands in particular was unacceptable: having nonvoting representatives of either the R.N.C. or the Democratic National Committee at the commission’s board meetings. The commission wrote that it was still studying that and other concerns the R.N.C. had raised, including the choice of moderators, as part of its review before the 2024 campaign cycle.

“We take the R.N.C.’s observations and suggestions seriously and, as we have said previously, we will give them careful consideration,” the commission’s letter read. “In furtherance of our position as a nonpartisan, neutral body, which neither favors nor disfavors any party or candidate, we do not negotiate the terms or conditions of our operations with anyone.”

But in her letter on Thursday, Ms. McDaniel replied that the commission’s response seemed designed to “delay any reform until it is too late to matter for the 2024 election.”

She added that the Republican National Committee’s duty was to ensure that its candidates debated their opponents on a level playing field.

“So long as the C.P.D. appears intent on stonewalling the meaningful reforms necessary to restore its credibility with the Republican Party as a fair and nonpartisan actor, the R.N.C. will take every step to ensure that future Republican presidential nominees are given that opportunity elsewhere,” Ms. McDaniel wrote.

Accordingly, she added, the R.N.C. would start the process of amending its rules at the winter meeting “to prohibit future Republican nominees from participating in C.P.D.-sponsored debates.”

It remains to be seen what, if any, new entity the Republican Party will choose as a host for debates and whether Democrats will agree.

Republicans have long complained about how the commission handles debates, going back to the 2012 campaign, when Senator Mitt Romney of Utah was the Republican nominee against the incumbent Democrat, President Barack Obama. The moderator of the town hall-style debate, Candy Crowley, then with CNN, fact checked Mr. Romney in real time about a claim he made about Mr. Obama, prompting an outcry from conservatives.

But the intensity of frustration with the commission has increased since Mr. Trump first became the Republican nominee in 2016.

Mr. Trump’s adviser, Rudolph W. Giuliani, argued with the commission at the second debate with Mrs. Clinton, when he tried to seat women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct near the stage. Mr. Trump has also complained about moderators repeatedly, insisting that both the former Fox News anchor Chris Wallace and the NBC News reporter Kristen Welker were biased against him (Mr. Trump said after the debate that Ms. Welker had been fair).

Mr. Trump announced three days after the first presidential debate in 2020 that he had been infected with the coronavirus. He had appeared sick to some onlookers at the first debate, and his former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, wrote in a book about the presidency that Mr. Trump had in fact had one positive coronavirus test in the days before the debate, followed by a negative one.

The commission changed the second presidential debate to a virtual format, prompting Mr. Trump to withdraw from it after a contentious debate with the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, for which Mr. Trump was heavily criticized.

Mr. Trump’s campaign manager at the time, Bill Stepien, wrote a blistering letter to the commission after the second debate format was changed, accusing the commission, among other things, of omitting the topic of foreign policy to try to help Mr. Biden.

Mr. Romney, who is Ms. McDaniel’s uncle, said that it would be “nuts” to go ahead with withdrawing from the commission debates. “The American people want to hear from the nominees of the two respective parties,” he told HuffPost. “It’s a good chance to understand their views and to see them in a high-pressure situation. It’s a great service to the public.”

What Underlies the G.O.P. Commitment to Ignorance?

As everyone knows, leftists hate America’s military. Recently, a prominent left-wing media figure attacked Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declaring, “He’s not just a pig, he’s stupid.”

Oh, wait. That was no leftist, that was Fox News’s Tucker Carlson. What set Carlson off was testimony in which Milley told a congressional hearing that he considered it important “for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and widely read.”

The problem is obvious. Closed-mindedness and ignorance have become core conservative values, and those who reject these values are the enemy, no matter what they may have done to serve the country.

The Milley hearing was part of the orchestrated furor over “critical race theory,” which has dominated right-wing media for the past few months, getting close to 2,000 mentions on Fox so far this year. One often sees assertions that those attacking critical race theory have no idea what it’s about, but I disagree; they understand that it has something to do with assertions that America has a history of racism and of policies that explicitly or implicitly widened racial disparities.

And such assertions are unmistakably true. The Tulsa race massacre really happened, and it was only one of many such incidents. The 1938 underwriting manual for the Federal Housing Administration really did declare that “incompatible racial groups should not be permitted to live in the same communities.”

We can argue about the relevance of this history to current policy, but who would argue against acknowledging simple facts?

The modern right, that’s who. The current obsession with critical race theory is a cynical attempt to change the subject away from the Biden administration’s highly popular policy initiatives, while pandering to the white rage that Republicans deny exists. But it’s only one of multiple subjects on which willful ignorance has become a litmus test for anyone hoping to succeed in Republican politics.

Thus, to be a Republican in good standing one must deny the reality of man-made climate change, or at least oppose any meaningful action to limit greenhouse gas emissions. One must reject or at least express skepticism about the theory of evolution. And don’t even get me started on things like the efficacy of tax cuts.

What underlies this cross-disciplinary commitment to ignorance? On each subject, refusing to acknowledge reality serves special interests. Climate denial caters to the fossil fuel industry; evolution denial caters to religious fundamentalists; tax-cut mysticism caters to billionaire donors.

But there’s also, I’d argue, a spillover effect: Accepting evidence and logic is a sort of universal value, and you can’t take it away in one area of inquiry without degrading it across the board. That is, you can’t declare that honesty about America’s racial history is unacceptable and expect to maintain intellectual standards everywhere else. In the modern right-wing universe of ideas, everything is political; there are no safe subjects.

This politicization of everything inevitably creates huge tension between conservatives and institutions that try to respect reality.

There have been many studies documenting the strong Democratic lean of college professors, which is often treated as prima facie evidence of political bias in hiring. A new law in Florida requires that each state university conduct an annual survey “which considers the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented,” which doesn’t specifically mandate the hiring of more Republicans but clearly gestures in that direction.

An obvious counterargument to claims of biased hiring is self-selection: How many conservatives choose to pursue careers in, say, sociology? Is hiring bias the reason police officers seem to have disproportionately supported Donald Trump in the 2016 election, or is this simply a reflection of the kind of people who choose careers in law enforcement?

But beyond that, the modern G.O.P. is no home for people who believe in objectivity. One striking feature of surveys of academic partisanship is the overwhelming Democratic lean in hard sciences like biology and chemistry; but is that really hard to understand when Republicans reject science on so many fronts?

One recent study marvels that even finance departments are mainly Democratic. Indeed, you might expect finance professors, some of whom do lucrative consulting for Wall Street, to be pretty conservative. But even they are repelled by a party committed to zombie economics.

Which brings me back to General Milley. The U.S. military has traditionally leaned Republican, but the modern officer corps is highly educated, open-minded and, dare I say it, even a bit intellectual — because those are attributes that help win wars.

Unfortunately, they are also attributes the modern G.O.P. finds intolerable.

So something like the attack on Milley was inevitable. Right-wingers have gone all in on ignorance, so they were bound to come into conflict with every institution — including the U.S. military — that is trying to cultivate knowledge.

The Doctor Versus the Denier

Anthony Fauci’s at the pool, but Donald Trump’s in deep.

Never mind Johnny Depp and Amber Heard.

You want to see a real can’t-look-away train wreck of a relationship? Look to the nation’s capital, where a messy falling out is chronicled everywhere from the tabloids to a glossy fashion magazine, replete with a photo shoot by a swimming pool.

The saga has enough betrayal, backstabbing, recrimination, indignation and ostracization to impress Edith Wharton.

The press breathlessly covers how much time has passed since the pair last spoke, whether they’re headed for splitsville, and if they can ever agree on what’s best for the children.

It was always bound to be tempestuous because they are the ultimate odd couple, the doctor and the president.

  • One is a champion of truth and facts. The other is a master of deceit and denial.
  • One is highly disciplined, working 18-hour days. The other can’t be bothered to do his homework and golfs instead.
  • One is driven by science and the public good. The other is a public menace, driven by greed and ego.
  • One is a Washington institution. The other was sent here to destroy Washington institutions.
  • One is incorruptible. The other corrupts.
  • One is apolitical. The other politicizes everything he touches — toilets, windows, beans and, most fatally, masks.

After a fractious week, when the former reality-show star in the White House retweeted a former game-show host saying that we shouldn’t trust doctors about Covid-19, Donald Trump and Anthony Fauci are gritting their teeth.

What’s so scary is that the bumpy course of their relationship has life-or-death consequences for Americans.

Who could even dream up a scenario where a president and a White House drop oppo research on the esteemed scientist charged with keeping us safe in a worsening pandemic?

The administration acted like Peter Navarro, Trump’s wacko-bird trade adviser, had gone rogue when he assailed Dr. Fauci for being Dr. Wrong, in a USA Today op-ed. But does anyone believe that? And if he did, would he still have his job?

No doubt it was a case of Trump murmuring: Will no one rid me of this meddlesome infectious disease specialist?

Republicans on Capitol Hill privately confessed they were baffled by the whole thing, saying they couldn’t understand why Trump would undermine Fauci, especially now with the virus resurgent. They think it’s not only hurting Trump’s re-election chances, but theirs, too.

As though it couldn’t get more absurd, Kellyanne Conway told Fox News on Friday that she thinks it would help Trump’s poll numbers for him to start giving public briefings on the virus again — even though that exercise went off the rails when the president began suggesting people inject themselves with bleach.

How did we get to a situation in our country where the public health official most known for honesty and hard work is most vilified for it?” marvels Michael Specter, a science writer for The New Yorker who began covering Fauci during the AIDs crisis. “And as Team Trump trashes him, the numbers keep horrifyingly proving him right.”

When Dr. Fauci began treating AIDs patients, nearly every one of them died. “It was the darkest time of my life,” he told Specter. In an open letter, Larry Kramer called Fauci a “murderer.”

Then, as Specter writes, he started listening to activists and made a rare admission: His approach wasn’t working. He threw his caution to the winds and became a public-health activist. Through rigorous research and commitment to clinical studies, the death rate from AIDs has plummeted over the years.

Now Fauci struggles to drive the data bus as the White House throws nails under his tires. It seems emblematic of a deeper, existential problem: America has lost its can-do spirit. We were always Bugs Bunny, faster, smarter, more wily than everybody else. Now we’re Slugs Bunny.

Can our country be any more pathetic than this: The Georgia governor suing the Atlanta mayor and City Council to block their mandate for city residents to wear masks?

Trump promised the A team, but he has surrounded himself with losers and kiss-ups and second-raters. Just your basic Ayn Rand nightmare.

Certainly, Dr. Fauci has had to adjust some of his early positions as he learned about this confounding virus. (“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” John Maynard Keynes wisely observed.)

Medicine is not an exact art,” Jerome Groopman, the best-selling author and professor at Harvard Medical School, put it. “There’s lots of uncertainty, always evolving information, much room for doubt. The most dangerous people are the ones who speak with total authority and no room for error.”

Sound like someone you know?

Medical schools,” Dr. Groopman continued, “have curricula now to teach students the imperative of admitting when something went wrong, taking responsibility, and committing to righting it.”

Some are saying the 79-year-old Dr. Fauci should say to hell with it and quit. But we need his voice of reason in this nuthouse of a White House.

Despite Dr. Fauci’s best efforts to stay apolitical, he has been sucked into the demented political kaleidoscope through which we view everything now. Consider the shoot by his pool, photographed by Frankie Alduino, for a digital cover story by Norah O’Donnell for InStyle magazine.

From the left, the picture represented an unflappable hero, exhausted and desperately in need of some R & R, chilling poolside, not letting the White House’s slime campaign get him down or silence him. And on the right, some saw a liberal media darling, high on his own supply in the midst of a deadly pandemic. “While America burns, Fauci does fashion mag photo shoots,” tweeted Sean Davis, co-founder of the right-wing website The Federalist.

It’s no coincidence that the QAnon-adjacent cultists on the right began circulating a new conspiracy theory in the fever swamps of Facebook that Dr. Fauci’s wife of three and a half decades, a bioethicist, is Ghislane Maxwell’s sister. (Do I need to tell you she isn’t?)

Worryingly, new polls show that the smear from Trumpworld may be starting to stick; fewer Republicans trust the doctor now than in the spring.

Forget Mueller, Sessions, Comey, Canada, his niece, Mika Brzezinski. Of the many quarrels, scrapes and scraps Trump has instigated in his time in office, surely this will be remembered not only as the most needless and perverse, but as the most dangerous.

As Dr. Fauci told The Atlantic, it’s “a bit bizarre.”

More than a bit, actually.

Who were those guys on Elizabethtown roofs?

If armed militia groups are going to give themselves permission to “police” local Black Lives Matter demonstrations, as they did in downtown Elizabethtown on June 6, I think it’s important to know a little more about them.

One of the groups in Elizabethtown — the Carlisle Light Infantry — claims to be the direct descendant of the Carlisle Light Infantry that marched with George Washington against the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania and fought for the Union in the Civil War.

The other, now calling itself the Domestic Terrorism Response Organization, identified itself as “Anti ANTIFA” on a newly created Facebook page June 1, but changed to Domestic Terrorism Response Organization shortly after President Donald Trump declared the loosely organized American anti-fascist movement to be a domestic terror group.

The president’s attempt to avoid addressing concerns about police brutality expressed across the country failed miserably. Under U.S. law, the federal government can only “deem entities terrorists and impose sanctions on them” if they’re from another country, according to The New York Times on June 10.

Elizabethtown police Chief Edward Cunningham told LNP | LancasterOnline that he “became aware” on the night of June 5 that some shop owners had arranged their own security, but said he didn’t invite the militia groups or approve their plans. Apparently, borough Councilman Bill Troutman didn’t either. Nearly a week later, he was still demanding to know “who put those people on the roof,” according to LNP | LancasterOnline.

One gunman told LNP | LancasterOnline his name is Niels Norby Jr. and stated “I was there to protect everybody” — store owners, police and protesters.

The Domestic Terrorism Response Organization members present in Elizabethtown apparently offered no explanation for their presence there. “Anti-antifa” — a name it previously used on Facebook — is a term that has been coined by and linked to some white supremacist groups, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

The Carlisle Light Infantry, in its modern incarnation, describes itself on its website (carlislelightinfantry.com) as “the living, breathing, operational element of the 2nd Amendment as defined by the signers of the constitution of the United States as ‘a well regulated militia.’ ”

Asserting to be the revitalized progeny of the Colonial-era Carlisle militia, the current leaders explain on their website why they had to get the unit back up and running. Following are direct and unedited quotes: “We live in a time where we as citizens are apprehensive, even afraid of our uniformed officers. We’re doubtful and suspicious of our local elected officials. We’re convinced that our leaders do not have our best interests, our families and livelihoods, in mind as they make decisions that effect every aspect of our daily lives. We live in a time when our open arms to the world and it’s many peoples and cultures invites risk and harm to our own. We therefore live in a time where it’s our personal and civic duty to stand up for what’s right, and protect what matters most.”

Despite its assertion that “we do not, and will not, discriminate against anyone,” there is not one black or brown face in the several group photos posted its website. Put all of that together and you come up with what sounds to me like another white nationalist group intent on imposing its jaundiced view of 21st-century American society on communities (as it did in Elizabethtown on June 6), whether we ask for it or not.

Shocking as it is to view photos of these people brandishing their weapons on the rooftops of downtown Elizabethtown, it really is nothing new. Militia members essentially threatened to lynch Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last month to express their displeasure with restrictions imposed to protect them from the deadly coronavirus.

But they go much further back than that. I met these disaffected Americans years ago when I was reporting in Michigan, Indiana and upstate New York. Like the Carlisle group, they called themselves “real” patriots. Those I met had lost faith in this country and its institutions, including the political system, the police and the military. Like the Carlisle Light Infantry, those militia members lived in fear; for them it was fear of a one-world government, secret messages on the back of road signs and black helicopters on the horizon.

For the Carlisle Light Infantry, it’s — in my view — fear of people of color, immigrants, diversity and a world not dominated by white people.

I felt sad talking to those militia groups back then, and the same sadness washes over me as I listen to these militia groups today. Their members seem so desperate that they’re willing to take up arms against their fellow citizens.

Back then, I tended to write these folks off as an insignificant splinter of the American body politic. But I don’t think we can ignore them anymore. They have a president who seemingly encourages them to take the law into their own hands and who shows no signs of understanding the traumatic experiences of any Americans, black or white.

Notice that today’s militia members seemingly express no sense of identifying with the struggle for racial equality and justice now sweeping across our country. It was a peaceful desire to support Black Lives Matter that triggered the protest in Elizabethtown on June 6. But the Domestic Terrorism Response Organization and the Carlisle Light Infantry didn’t come for that. They stood with trigger fingers at the ready — an intimidating, self-appointed presence — apparently prepared to take out anyone who crossed whatever lines they drew for acceptable behavior during a demonstration against police brutality.

Although the Carlisle Light Infantry puts in a lot of time drilling, these members are not trained police officers. Thank God the day did not end in tragedy. But the challenge posed by these groups did not end at sundown in Elizabethtown. A civil society cannot allow violence or the threat of violence to usurp the rule of law.

These are tragically disappointed people, gripped by fear and a mindset that will lead to nothing good. We must invite them back into the community dialogue now — for their sake and ours. There’s no better time than the present.

 

 

Cutting through the Green Tape: Who called the militia to ‘protect’ during Elizabethtown Protest