The Trump campaign accused the non-partisan Commission on Presidential Debates of political bias on Thursday, and said no rule changes should be implemented for the remaining events.
The commission said on Wednesday that it will provide moderators with “additional tools” and “structure” to keep the conversation on track, after President Donald Trump’s chaotic performance on Tuesday night.
In a conference call with reporters, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien quoted negative things that several of the commission members had said about Trump in the past. He argued that the quotes show that the commission’s claim to be non-partisan “could not be further from the truth.”
In an interview with Nantucket Magazine in August, co-chair Frank Fahrenkopf was quoted saying that he learned from the 2016 election that “the American people are not necessarily going to vote for who they think is the smartest person.”
Fahrenkopf chaired the Republican National Committee in the 1980s, and was the chief lobbyist for the casino industry until he retired in 2013. The other co-chairs of the debate commission are Dorothy S. Ridings, the former chair of the League of Women Voters; and Kenneth Wollack, former president of the National Democratic Institute and a former legislative director for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Jason Miller, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, said on the press call that the commission is composed of “permanent swamp monsters.”
“We don’t want any changes,” Miller said. “We think President Trump did absolutely fantastic.”
The remaining presidential debates will be held on Oct. 15 and Oct. 22. Steve Scully, of C-SPAN, will host the town-hall event in Miami, and NBC’s Kristen Welker will moderate the final event in Nashville. The sole vice presidential debate will be held next Wednesday in Salt Lake City.
In response, the Biden campaign said it has pledged to “participate under the commission’s rules.”
“The only real question is whether the President will start following the rules in the next two debates,” a Biden spokesperson said.
On the Trump call, staffer Max Miller said Biden’s representative had made suggestions for possible rule changes, including having opening and closing statements and limiting the time for open discussion. “The mute button issue did come up,” Miller said.
Trump also sparred with the Commission on Presidential Debates in 2016, claiming at one point that the debates were scheduled to coincide with NFL games. After the first debate, Trump complained about a microphone malfunction in the hall.
In a November 2016 interview with Nantucket Magazine, Fahrenkopf attributed the microphone issue to a Trump staffer touching it beforehand, and said Trump showed up late for the walk-through.
“In my experience the side that loses the debate usually blames the moderator or the commission,” Fahrenkopf said at the time.