Kennedy: My Exclusion from CNN Debate is ‘Undemocratic, Un-American, and Cowardly’

Photo by Gage Skidmore / Flickr. Creative commons license.
Created: 21 June, 2024
4 min read

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr


US voters awoke Thursday to the news that the June 27 CNN presidential debate stage had been set. The network had its promotions ready for two candidates -- and only two candidates.

Thursday, June 20, was the deadline to qualify. 

The exclusion of anyone outside the two major parties should come as no surprise since CNN promised the Trump and Biden teams back in May that no other candidate would be on the stage.

Specifically, CNN producers promised that independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr would not be on the stage, since he had the name ID and resources to have a substantial impact on the election.

The last thing Biden and Trump wanted was for voters to see that there were other candidates in the election -- especially considering how unhappy people are to have a rematch from 2020.

“Presidents Biden and Trump do not want me on the debate stage and CNN illegally agreed to their demand," said Kennedy.

“My exclusion by Presidents Biden and Trump from the debate is undemocratic, un-American, and cowardly. Americans want an independent leader who will break apart the two-party duopoly."

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Kennedy asserts that CNN's criteria for debate inclusion violated federal law because the criteria were not "objective" or "pre-established."

His team filed a complaint with the FEC with plenty of receipts to back up the claim.

To qualify, a candidate had to appear on the ballot in enough states that combined had at least 270 electoral votes. This, on its own, is problematic for any independent candidate.

Each state has its own rules, deadlines, and signature requirements for independent candidates. Some states do not even let independents start gathering signatures until later in the cycle, meaning the odds are already stacked against the independent.

Independent candidates also have to wait for states to certify their place on the ballot -- meaning even if they submit the required signatures, it could be months before the signatures are validated.

To date, Kennedy has only been certified in 7 states (California, Delaware, Hawaii, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Utah). 

CNN did not count the other states where his supporters submitted enough signatures to appear on the ballot because the language of its criteria leaves no room for assumption.

Unless, of course, the candidate is Biden or Trump -- because at this point in the cycle, their names appear on zero ballots. Neither candidate has officially been nominated by their respective party. 

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Major party nominations for president happen at each party's national convention, the first of which is the Republican National Convention scheduled for mid-July.

In his complaint to the FEC, Kennedy notes that CNN's rationale was that Biden and Trump are the "presumptive" nominees, and while their names are not officially on the ballot, they likely will be.

No matter how the network spined it, it was a clear exception and thus explicitly endorsed Biden and Trump. And at least on this point, the FEC agreed

The agency stated that the phrase "presumptive nominee" "is not in the FEC's debate regulation." This means CNN could not claim the rule is "pre-established."

It also means CNN would not be exempt from prohibitions on excessive campaign contributions, which violate the Federal Election Campaign Act.

Even the Commission on Presidential Debates (which has successfully kept a third candidate off the debate stage for 7 consecutive elections but was snubbed by the parties) agreed.

“Until the conventions take place, we don’t know who the official nominees will be," the commission stated. 

It is possible that CNN believed that it could fall back on its other stipulation, which is that candidates must poll at 15% or higher in 4 polls from 12 potential polling sources. 

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This type of criteria has previously been disputed as well, including in litigation against the Commission on Presidential Debates which has its own 15% rule.

In order for this stipulation to be objective, pollsters and the media have to give equal consideration to candidates outside the major parties -- which they don't.

Pollsters often don't include more than two candidates when they survey voters or bury the names of independent and third-party candidates who get zero coverage in the media.

The reason many notable and viable independent candidates don't run is because it would cost them hundreds of millions to bolster their name ID just to get to 15% in the polls.

Meanwhile, national media outlets give the major party candidates billions in free airtime to reinforce the perception that voters only have two options -- Republican or Democrat.

This is hardly objective or nonpartisan. 

Kennedy, whose last name still carries weight and has money, was able to get to 15% in 3 of the 4 polls required by CNN.

In a press release, his team stated that if CNN moves forward with the debate without him, the campaign will "pursue the issue for as long as it takes to obtain justice against these illegal acts."

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