Member of The Commission on Presidential Debates Levels Charges at President Ahead of Tonight’s Debate

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

As just the second Presidential debate is staged more drama ensues ahead of tonight’s drama.

It says everything that a political entity around for over three decades but has mostly been unrecognized has been under focus in the news cycle for the past month or so. Prior to this year you barely ever heard mention of The Commission On Presidential debates, yet in this year of Covid infections, rabid moderators and uncontrollable participants the Commission has been thrust into the media klieg lights. 

This has become reflective of the old maxim in regards to NFL referees; you do not notice them when they do their job correctly, but you are made aware once they mess up and make bad calls. Well, a lot of people have been made aware of the debate commission this election. Between the controversies surrounding the moderators — from a combative Chris Wallace to a shamed Steve Scully — and the decisions being made regarding the debate frameworks of late there have been plenty of questions levelled at this governing body.

In an act of self-defense one member of the commission, former Republican Senator John Danforth, put out an op-ed in The Washington Post and as it carries a tone of correction towards the President it also manages to expose the flaws we have seen from this group. Danforth makes a rather laughable assertion — the words of condemnation from the President are a direct threat to our democracy.

But there’s an enormous difference between criticizing good-faith efforts and accusing the commission of corrupt favoritism. The first is helpful for improving our work. The second destroys public confidence in the most basic treasure of democracy, the conduct of fair elections. The second paves the way to violence in the streets.

This is a rather hysterical assertion; criticizing an entity few were even aware of two months ago is hardly going to shake the foundations of our democracy. How on earth questioning the integrity of the Debate Commission will lead to violence in the streets is a complete mystery, but looking over how many cities have been looted and burned we can only assume the Trump campaign has been criticizing this esteemed group since this past Spring!

On the topic of moderators, Danforth declares their selections are made on those who are ‘’highly professional’’. Many have called Chris Wallace’s performance into question following his contentious hosting duties. Then their choice of Steve Scully was a blatant case of choosing a lowly professional. Scully was caught seeking advice from a noted anti-Trump figure, Anthony Scaramucci, and when busted he attempted to pass it off as a case of his being hacked. Scully has since been suspended over that falsehood. 

Danforth attempts to dismiss Scully’s action as having been provoked by the Trump camp (‘’attacked by Trump and his supporters’’, explains the former Senator), and not reflective of his character. ”The commission relied on what had been Scully’s sterling reputation for professionalism.’’ This means they ignored Scully having been noted to forward anti-Trump media pieces, as well as his propensity for making similar errors on social media, blaming those instances on being hacked as well. 

The actions of the Commission apart from the news figures are also of questionable merit. The second debate — that to moderated by Scully — was ultimately scrapped as a result of President Trump’s Covid diagnosis. The town hall format was shifted, at the behest of the Biden camp, to a virtual arrangement. This was something the Trump campaign would not agree to, so the Commission cancelled the event outright.

They avoided the Scully controversy by declaring they cancelled out of concern for the safety of the participants and the 60 member production team. This deflection, of course, is exposed by the fact that both candidates instead went on to stage live town halls on their own. Those competing live events somehow managed to take place on the same date the second debate was to be held.

Now leading into tonight the Commission cannot get out of its own way. As the debate topics were announced they were notably tepid in nature. As foreign policy is sidestepped other benign topics have been listed to be addressed by NBC’s Kristen Welker — including ”Leadership’’ (not at all a generic topic) and ”American Families’’ (uh…pro-family, I assume?) But one other detail tonight is a direct result of the Commission paying heed to the Biden camp.

There has been extensive theorizing that a MUTE button will be employed tonight, as a means of curtailing the numerous interruptions and time overruns that were prominent in the first Wallace-led debate. It has since been made official that this will in fact be a device made available tonight, at the behest of the Biden campaign. 

So Danforth’s ”Well I never!’’ stance here shrivels when all of the items are looked at objectively. Biased moderators, neutered subject matter, and now a silencing tool brought in because Biden asked for it pretty much backs up the claims from the Trump camp that this commission is a questionable entity. Of course, simply raising these questions is a threat to our democracy, we have learned. 

Heck, if they were truly interested in fairness all 3 participants should get a MUTE button. Considering the behavior of Savannah Guthrie in the NBC town hall last week it could be useful for the candidates to also have the option to squelch responses.