This is what the Rutland Herald had to say about a potential rule change that challenges the role of debates in presidential elections:
We think most people would agree that the best way to know who the best candidate for public office might be is to hear their answers to the pressing issues of interest.
Whether it is local government or the president of the United States, we all benefit from a lively debate. We not only get to hear responses, we get to pass judgment on body language, the ability to demonstrate qualifications, and to interject humor. It provides a fuller picture than just standing on a party platform.
So we are left scratching our head over news Thursday that the Republican National Committee is seeking a rule change requiring presidential candidates seeking the party’s nomination to sign a pledge to not participate in any debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates.
The New York Times obtained a letter from Republican committee officials, who alerted the debate commission to their plans. 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 Times noted in its reporting.
According to the Times, 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 Times wrote.
The proposed change would be voted on at the RNC’s February meeting in Salt Lake City.
While the commission only deals with presidential debates, our concern is that similar rules will be imposed for other races — Congress, statewide, legislative and municipal.
The mantra of “We won’t debate if we don’t believe it’s going to be fair,” seems like a pretty slippery slope downhill to the pit of Make It So Broken No One Has Faith In It.
Democracy hinges on the election process and voting cannot be done effectively without an educated electorate. That means airing points of view, discussing the merits of policies, and dissecting proposals.
One can pinpoint the impetus for this movement away from democratic principles.
According to the Times, former president Donald Trump criticized the commission in 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 former president Bill Clinton. He also complained then that the debates were being held at the same time as football games, the Times said.
This highly partisan tactic could not come at a worse time for Democrats.
Their hopes of finally pushing through voting rights legislation after months of Republican opposition was cut down Thursday after Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat, again announced she would not support changing Senate rules that have long allowed a minority of senators to block legislation.
Sinema echoed her previous public statements where she defended the filibuster, the Senate’s 60-vote supermajority rule, as a tool to facilitate bipartisan cooperation and guard against wild swings in federal policy.
But the circumstances in which she reiterated it put an exclamation point on her party’s long and fruitless effort to counter restrictive Republican-passed state voting laws, according to an analysis by The Washington Post on Thursday.
Clearly, the partisanship that has divided the country is not going anywhere anytime soon.
In fact, if the RNC moves forward with its proposal, 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, the Times noted.
Members of the commission have complained that RNC 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 GOP base behind abandoning institutions than there used to be.”
To us, this feels like a different kind of attack on voting rights.
Many Americans already do not trust the results of voting (even at the most local level), nor do they have faith in the actual act of voting — a perception that voting rights advocates like Secretary of State Jim Condos has worked tirelessly to counter.
To cast doubt now on how candidates discuss issues openly for the benefit of voters — at the highest levels of the land — seems incredibly reckless.
Hopefully, all involved will see the value in the process and keep it intact as a way for the public to have a better understanding of who deserves their votes.