Avlon Laments ‘Another Blow to Our Democracy’ After RNC Debate Withdrawal

On CNN’s Friday installment of Day of the New, John Avlon reacted to the news that the RNC has withdrawn from the Commission on Presidential Debates with one of his “reality checks” that characteristically featured plenty of pretentiousness, but not a lot of reality.

For Avlon, the decision is another Trumpian threat to democracy, “This is a big deal. Another setback to democracy. This appears to have been a temper tantrum at Donald Trump’s request complaining about the bias of the commission. It’s also a virtual guarantee that America will retreat further into its partisan echo chamber, which is the last thing we need.”



Avlon then played some clips of memorable debate moments including Ronald Reagan’s “there you go again” quip in 1980 despite the CPD not being founded until 1987.

After the clips, Avlon explored one of the RNC’s complaints, “They point to the selection of Steve Scully from C-SPAN who moderated a debate last cycle, despite the fact that he had briefly interned for Joe Biden decades before. This is important to remember: the COVID prevented that debate from happening. However, this is a poor look. Let’s give them that.”

Scully went further than that. He attempted to coordinate with Anthony Scaramucci and then lied about it by declaring his Twitter account was hacked.

Avlon continued, “But despite the RNC’s claims that the commission is biased, if you look at what stations have actually moderated general election debates this century, it’s PBS that has the decided edge, followed by NBC and CBS. CNN moderated 2 debates and Chris Wallace, former Fox News anchor, two. MSNBC has been shut out.”

Avlon was a CNN personality and completely missed that one of the CNN debates was Candy Crowley’s debate. This debate predated Trump. Facts being stubborn things to be ignored, Avlon declared, “So, the problem isn’t partisan bias, it’s that conservatives seem to believe that anyone who is not explicitly right-wing is de facto from the left, which is an absurd way to understand the American electorate. This is, let’s admit it, a way of avoiding difficult questions. At the end of the day, it’s really just about fealty to Trump.”

Avlon concluded by suggesting Republicans have no self- confidence, “Trying to shut down presidential debates shows a lack of confidence in being able to win a contest of ideas. Recall that in politics as in religion, the core of evangelism involves winning converts. And that means not simply preaching to the choir, but instead making your case on the debate stage for all your fellow citizens to hear.”

Tough questions are fine, moderators repeatedly interfering on one side is not and that’s why the RNC was right to quit the CPD.

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The transcript of the show, April 15, is available here:

CNN John Berman, Brianna Keilar and New Day


6:36 AM ET

JOHN AVLON – I hope so. But you might just have witnessed your last American presidential debate, at least once in a long time. The RNC voted yesterday unanimously to resign from the bipartisan panel that organizes presidential debates. It is quite a significant move. It is another setback for democracy. The commission’s bias seems to be the reason for this temper tantrum. The fact that America is likely to retreat even further in its partisan echo chamber almost guarantees it, which is what we don’t need.

Because they allow voters the chance to evaluate candidates side-by-side, they give them a glimpse of their beliefs and character, as well as their ability to think and act on their feet. Consider Ronald Reagan’s dismissal of President Jimmy Carter’s critiques and his position on health care.

RONALD REGAN : Here you are again.

AVLON : The famous VP debate smackdown in ’88 was a great success.

LLOYD BENTSEN – Senator, Jack Kennedy is not you.

AVLON : It was George W. Bush’s approval that Al Gore could be put in his place.

GEORGEW.BUSH: Is it possible to get them done? Yes, I do believe so.

AVLON : This is how it got here. In January, after the RNC threatened to keep its candidates from participating in debates sponsored by a commission, the commission co-chairman, Frank Fahrenkopf, himself a former chair of the RNC, said that the GOP was demanding to, quote, “control things we aren’t prepared to let them control.”

Let’s take a look at the RNC’s main complaints. These complain about Steve Scully of C-SPAN, who was selected to moderate a debate during the previous cycle, even though he was a former intern for Joe Biden. This is important to remember: the COVID prevented that debate from taking place. However, this is a very bad look. We’ll give it to them.

Despite claims by the RNC that they are biased, if one looks at the actual stations that have moderated general elections debates in this century’s history, PBS is the dominant station, closely followed by NBC, CBS, and NBC. CNN has moderated two debates, while Chris Wallace (then Fox News anchor) managed two. MSNBC has been excluded.

The problem isn’t partisan bias. It’s conservatives believing that any person who doesn’t explicitly identify as right-wing are de facto left-leaning, which is a ridiculous way to think about the American electorate. Let’s face it, there is also an effort to dodge difficult questions. The end result is that it’s about Trump’s loyalty. This blame the ref cycle was started by him and, two weeks prior to election day 2020 John Danforth (former Republican senator and CBD board Member) responded in an editorial. He said this. Quote, “the president’s apparent strategy is to challenge the validity of the election should he lose. The strategy was first evident in his claim that mail-in ballots were tools to commit massive electoral fraud. Now we see it as well in his assertion that the debates have been rigged by the commission to favor former Vice President Joe Biden.”

That’s why you should give that man a crystal-ball. However, it is not unreasonable to demand politicians have the strength and courage to support their convictions. They should all be on the table. We see far too many conservatives going to right-wing TV to get guaranteed softballs. Too many Democrats are refusing to present their case to conservative outlets or audiences. We hear what Stephanie Grisham (ex-Trump Press Secretary) said last October. Day of the New.

STEPHANIE GRAHAM: In general, they didn’t have to be tough with us. They took the information we gave them and spread it. 

AVLON: This is not the way democracy and journalism are supposed to function. The attempt to shut down presidential debates is a sign of insecurity about being able win an intellectual contest. Recall that the core of evangelism, in both politics and religion, is to win converts. This means that you don’t just preach to the choir; it also requires making your case for your cause on the debate stage so all citizens can hear. That’s the “Reality Check”

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