By Ralph Nader
In 2004 author George Farah exposed the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) as a creation in 1987 of the Republican and Democratic Parties to take control away from the “uppity” League of Women Voters (LWV). The League had been the sponsor of presidential debates every four years.
Farah’s book was titled No Debate: How the Republican and Democratic Parties Secretly Control the Presidential Debates. Unless voters organize their own debates (about which more later), there may be no presidential debates this year. There won’t be 50 to 100 million viewers watching the debates, as there were in prior presidential election contests.
This year of no debate started last April when the Republican National Committee (RNC) unanimously voted to leave the CPD. Under pressure from Donald J. Trump, who thinks all debates involving him are stacked against him, the RNC explained that they are quitting by alleging that the CPD is biased.
Sure, the CPD is very biased against Third Party candidates, which it has managed to exclude since 1988, despite national polls that show voters want more voices and choices on the debate stage. For example, in 2000, over 60% in a Fox Poll wanted Pat Buchanan and me in the Debates.
Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the RNC, declared on the day of withdrawal that the RNC is “…going to find newer, better debate platforms to ensure that future nominees are not forced to go through the biased CPD in order to make their case to the American people.” Because Trump doesn’t want debates, she has done nothing since April.
Across the aisle, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) endorsed Joe Biden last April and, according to the Washington Post, “has no plans to sponsor primary debates.” Presently, there are only two competing Democratic candidates Marianne Williamson, a well-known self-help author/lecturer, and Dean Phillips, a three-term Democratic Congressman from Minnesota. The DNC wants no debates with these two challengers during the primary season and neither does President Joe Biden.
“It’s just against democratic principle. Those of us who are running should be heard, …it’s what the people deserve,” Ms. Williamson told the Washington Post.
So, what are the voters to do? The answer is clear. There are major cities in the half-dozen swing states that will probably decide the 2024 November election. Just about every organized group in these cities – Atlanta, Philadelphia, Detroit, Milwaukee, Phoenix and Las Vegas – would want a Presidential debate in their city. This is true for both red and blue states.
Bringing a presidential debate to one’s city brings national media coverage, with reporters, visitors and an outpouring of spending. There would be excited support from chambers of commerce, unions, citizen groups, schools, religious associations, good government organizations like the Urban Leagues, service clubs, City Hall and yes, the League of Women Voters.
Invitations sent to the nominees after their conventions would be very difficult to reject. It would be an insult to the people’s pride in each state.
Unlike the one-shoe-fits-all model of the CPD, this proposal would provide a greater variety of debate formats and reflect national issues by the moderators but also regional issues which were never discussed when the RNC and DNC were in charge. Different ideas on how to involve the public would be put into practice as well.
The proverbial named “empty seat” for no-show candidates would be visible to millions of TV viewers if an invited candidate declined to participate. All that is needed to make these debates happen is for the Mayor and City Council in each city to establish a representative host Committee to organize the details of when, where and how these debates are to be planned.
I’m sending this very realizable proposal to the mayors of the aforementioned cities and suggest that local radio and TV talk shows and newspapers interview local officials and the candidates about this idea. Readers of this column can choose to weigh in with their special enthusiasms.
It is about time that presidential candidates be confronted with some grassroots initiatives instead of having their two or three debate locations and topics chosen by the major political party operatives in Washington, DC.
The 2024 presidential election is not generating excitement. There are reports of more voters staying home than usual. The RNC and DNC, with their stubborn no debates policy, are assuring a lower turnout.
Presidential debates with huge watching and listening audiences boost voter turnout, affording many voters their only observation of the candidates interacting with one another in a non-scripted manner.
Go for it, Mayors and city councils! Crank up the engines for these local initiatives. The debate discussions and local engagement have beneficial ripple effects for our democracy.