GOP Primary Debate Exposes Need to Change Commission on Presidential Debates Rules

Created: 06 August, 2015
Updated: 16 October, 2022
2 min read

Amid the ruckus of the first Republican debate, including controversy over the use of polling to determine which candidates are participating, it is easy to forget that 43% of American voters don't identify with either political party. That's a record, and it reflects the alienation voters feel with the two-party system.

America's independent voters will not be represented on the debate stage tonight. And unless the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) changes its rules to allow for a third, independent candidate to participate in the general election debates next fall, America's independent voters will not be represented on the debate stage in the 2016 presidential election. By a two-to-one margin, voters favor changing the fall debate rules, according to a

study by Peter D. Hart.

The CPD is dominated by party stalwarts, including its co-chairs, Frank Fahrenkopf, former head of the Republican Party, and Mike McCurry, former press secretary to Bill Clinton. Since 2000, the CPD has used a rule that bars independents from appearing in the final fall debates, thus eliminating them as presidential contenders – just as the two parties want.

"The seven Republicans who didn't make the cut tonight may be really great candidates, but they can forget about being president – just like that,"

said Cara Brown McCormick, President and CEO of Level the Playing Field, an organization pushing to open up the fall 2016 final debates to an independent candidate.

"The same can be said for an independent candidate who will never be allowed to participate in the general election debates under the CPD's current rules. American voters deserve better, it's that simple."

The CPD is currently under tremendous pressure to stop using polling numbers to justify their exclusion of a third, independent candidate from participating in the presidential debates. Level the Playing Field, a non-profit and non-partisan group, filed a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission in June, seeking to have it force the CPD to perform its stated "non-partisan" mission and use "objective criteria to decide who can participate in debates." LPF has also run 13 full-page ads in the Wall Street Journal demanding change in the debate access rules.

McCormick of LPF continued: "If the CPD's 15 percent rule were applied to tonight's debate, only Donald Trump would be standing on stage and I think most people would say that's not right."

CPD co-chair Fahrenkopf has admitted that "there's no question the American people are unhappy with both political parties… they're unhappy with the whole political environment, and they want change."

But for 11 months, the CPD – defying a two-to-one majority of Americans who want an independent on the stage – has stonewalled attempts to open the debates to a third, independent candidate and improve the health of American democracy.

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