CLAY: We bring in now the chair of the RNC, Ronna McDaniel, and she is here as you guys have created — thank you for spending time with us here on Friday — a bit of a tempest in the Washington, D.C., weather. I want to play for you here what Jen Psaki said yesterday — I’m sure you heard it, but if our audience didn’t — about presidential candidates not participating in debates sponsored by this group.
PSAKI: The president has participated in many debates over the course of his career, and, uh, believes they play a role in allowing the American people to hear from candidates and where they stand. So I think it’s more a pose — uh, a question best posted to the RNC on what they’re so afraid of.
CLAY: So she asked the question, “What are you guys so afraid of?” How do you respond to Jen Psaki.
MCDANIEL: Yeah. I think the question more should go back to her, What you are afraid of? Because of course you love a presidential debate committee that picked a moderator who worked for you, worked for Joe Biden. They started debates after 26 states had started absentee voting, and they moved the second debate to virtual because Joe couldn’t leave the basement. So of course they love that commission. I would say to them, “Why are you so afraid to negotiate with the networks directly?
“Why do you need a middleman to do your dirty work for you?” And that’s what the RNC is saying. We’re sick of working with a biased committee. The things that we’ve asked them to guarantee that they wouldn’t do for 2024 — like not picking a moderator that works that works for the Democrats, starting debates before 26 states have started voting, and not having their committee members trash the Republican nominee — I think are pretty common-sense. They told us, “We’re not gonna guarantee those things,” and so you now we’re gonna look for a fair forum for my debate for our candidate.
BUCK: Ronna, this is Buck, and this is music to my ears — and I’ve gotta tell you, I’ve watched the debates increasingly in recent years with frustration. It’s so obvious. Just off the top of one’s head you can think about someone of the likes of John Harwood involved, who is just a clear Democrat partisan in a presidential debate. What happened with Candy Crowley at CNN when Mitt Romney and Barack Obama were debating the issue of Benghazi.
There’s so many key moments that even come up, never mind the overall tilt toward the left and toward the Democrats on this. So what can be done now? Assuming that — and you are running the RNC, so you are the person we need to talk to about this — there is an understanding that these debates are biased and unfair in favor of Democrats because they control 95% of — quote, unquote — “journalism and media” in the country. What does a more fair forum look like? How can we get to a place where we don’t have a Democrat hack taking cheap shots at the would-be next Republican president of the United States on a debate stage?
MCDANIEL: Totally, Buck, and I think a big part of it is getting rid of a commission that’s biased, and part of their plan is are, “Oh, we negotiate with the nominee and renegotiate with the nominee.” Well, the Republican nominee won’t be in place until July or August of 2024. By then, they have contracted the venues, they’ve picked the moderators, it’s too late. So the RNC is intervening now before we pass our rules for 2024, and we are putting them on notice.
And we are saying, “Our candidates cannot seek our nomination unless they agree to not work with the CPD,” which is gonna open the door for less bias or nonbias — neutral arbiters — to come forward for us to negotiate directly with networks and to find forums that will conduct a fair debate for the American people, conduct debates before 26 states start voting, agree to not pick moderators that worked for either candidate. Really simple things that we’re asking for. This is a rule change we’re gonna propose at our winter meeting, and it will be passed at a later meeting.
CLAY: Ronna, I know people are super excited about the midterms coming up in November, but there are also a ton of our listeners that are even more excited about the idea of a 2024 presidential campaign. When will the first debates begin for the Republican presidential candidates? Because those were wildly entertaining in the run-up, if you remember — certainly as you well do — in ’16 with so many different candidates on the stage. We’ll see how that looks in ’24. And do you anticipate still Iowa as the official launching point for the Republican race for whoever’s gonna get the primary?
MCDANIEL: Yeah, so all of this is starting right now with the Republican National Committee. So we’re gonna our winter meeting where the presidential nominating committee and the debate committee will put their suggestions forward and then it will be embedded in the rules. I haven’t seen a lot of movement from the members saying they want to move away from the traditional Iowa-New Hampshire. So we’ll see what they do.
I don’t want to get ahead of their work. And on the debates, I think they’re gonna have to start earlier. If you’re looking at the primaries and how that’s stacking up for 2014, they’re gonna be starting earlier than ever. You could have some primaries back in December of ’23. So that means debates will have to start earlier and earlier. So we’ll be adjusting the calendars accordingly.
BUCK: Is there anything that’s going to stop this from happening? I just want to know. This all sounds great, Ronna — and we’re speaking to Ronna McDaniel, head of the RNC. Is this gonna be implemented? I just don’t want to get excited that we’re not gonna go into Democrat ambushes in the presidential cycle and then all of a sudden, you know, it’s like Lucy pulling the football at the last second.
MCDANIEL: So the only way this can happen really right now is if the RNC takes an affirmative stance, because the CPD has had a monopoly; there’s been no competition in that space — and all their bias always is towards the Republicans. So the debate committee for the RNC voted unanimously to take this step, and now we’re gonna take it to the full 168. I’ve got work to do to make sure the members agree to this rule change.
But we’ve had overwhelming support from grassroots and people who have understood this process for so long, who bang their head and say, “Why do Republicans let their candidate deal with this and get into these debates with these biased moderators?” and this is the first time the RNC has stepped up and said, “Enough is enough. We’re gonna fight for our 74 million voters and we’re gonna fight for our future nominee,” and that starts right now.
CLAY: Ronna, thank you. Fantastic stuff. We’ll looking forward to the fight — and also, we can’t wait for that 2024 race to start.
MCDANIEL: Thank you. We’re fighting for 2022. We have to win the midterms first. (laughing)
CLAY: Everybody is excited for 2022. We’re already looking ahead.
BUCK: We promise. Clay and I are mobilizing everybody.
MCDANIEL: Thanks, guys. (laughing)
CLAY: Thank you.