Commission on Presidential Debates questions: the RNC, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and the CPD’s future

The Commission on Presidential Debates essentially took over responsibility for coordinating the major general election presidential debates in every cycle since 1988. There are a few points of intrigue at the moment ahead of the 2024 election.

First, the Republican National Committee announced last year it would no longer participate in the CPD. Criticism of the CPD and the debate format from the right has been around for some time, and recent events–likely accelerated by Donald Trump and by debate adjustments during Covid–meant the RNC viewed it as the time to end the relationship. So, what might replace it?

Second, the criteria used since 2000 has been a requirement that a candidate appear on ballots in enough states to win a majority of the Electoral College and that a candidate poll at least 15% in 5 nationwide polls. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has announced his run as an independent presidential candidate. He is polling exceedingly well–he is at 14.6% in the latest Real Clear Politics average. In my judgment, there is nearly zero change that Kennedy carries even a single electoral vote–independent candidate support is often higher in polls than in reality, and it erodes significantly when voters actually cast ballots. That said, the criteria might well allow him to get on stage, if such criteria continues forward.

Third, what’s the future of the CPD? I ask because of a combination of my first two points. I visited the CPD’s website to see if had any news updates on its polling criteria. There have been no updates in nearly a year. It’s unusual–in past presidential election cycles, by this date, we would typically have the Commission’s criteria for participating in the debates in the fall, and the locations for debates to be held. So far, it’s been total silence. Maybe the CPD is just running behind. But, it may well signal something else about its future–and in a year when, perhaps, the traditional criteria would have allowed a third candidate on stage for the first time since 1992.

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