America didn’t have a serious foreign policy debate in 2020. The supposedly non-partisan Commission on Presidential Debates made sure of it after President Donald Trump finished his first term with an explosion of Middle East peace deals redefining what was possible in a broken world of fragile diplomacy.
Six days prior to the third and final debate between then-former Vice President Joe Biden and the incumbent president, moderator and NBC News White House Correspondent Kristen Welker released the topics for the Tennessee showdown.
“Fighting COVID-19,” “American Families,” “Race in America,” “Climate Change,” “National Security,” and “Leadership,” were all included. Foreign policy, a topic traditionally reserved for the final televised debate was conspicuously absent.
“We urge you to recalibrate topics,” Trump Campaign Manager Bill Stepien wrote to the commission at the time, blasting the forum for unilaterally revoking foreign affairs from the discussion. “As is the long-standing custom, and as has been promised by the Commission on Presidential Debates, we had expected that foreign policy would be the central focus of the October 2022 debate.”
After changing the debate rules mid-cycle to Biden’s benefit, the commission, run entirely by supporters of the Democratic ticket, refused to relent, and foreign policy remained off the table as the two went head-to-head at Belmont University. The motivations behind the commission’s decision were clear, and the consequences 14 months later would prove tragic.
Global affairs had been an area of triumph under the Trump administration, which successfully navigated four years with no new wars while applying overdue pressure on overseas adversaries as means of deterrence. A trio of peace deals between generational rivals across the Middle East served as the grand finale in the final days leading to the November election, demonstrating a White House presiding over a new era of diplomatic tranquility.
The debate commission was not about to allow the president to showcase his greatest accomplishments against a lifelong politician who, in the words of his own prior administration’s defense secretary, had “been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
Biden would not demonstrate any more competence as commander in chief than he did during his initial 40 years in Washington, while his son leveraged his name to generate millions from foreign business deals. Blockbuster revelations to emerge in the days preceding the third debate about Hunter Biden’s foreign ventures were also grounds for the politicized commission to shield their preferred candidate from the legitimate attacks he might ensue.
Two days before the final debate topics were announced, The New York Post published emails contradicting Joe Biden’s long-held claims he had never discussed Hunter’s business ventures with his son, “or with anyone else.” The former vice president even fat-shamed an Iowa voter who pressed the candidate on the issue during the Democrat primaries.
According to emails obtained by the Post, however, Biden met with a Ukrainian consultant for the energy company Burisma in a meeting arranged by Hunter. At the time, Hunter Biden was serving on Burisma’s board raking in upwards of $50,000 a month in excess compensation despite no prior experience in the industry. Joe Biden was then the Obama administration’s “public face” of White House policy towards Ukraine.
A second bombshell report came the following day, preceding the debate commission’s surprise announcement. More emails published by The New York Post from the same hard drive that would later be forensically verified indicated Joe Biden stood to personally rake in millions from Chinese business partners stemming from Hunter’s ventures.
The apparent conflicts of interest calling into question a major presidential candidate’s capacity for diplomacy in Americans’ best interest would surely garner a greater spotlight in a debate focused primarily on foreign affairs. The emails, however, were only brought up by Biden when he dismissed them as Russian disinformation despite on-the-record statements debunking the claim from the FBI, the Department of Justice, the Department of National Intelligence, and the Department of State.
A genuine discussion on foreign policy in 2020 was clouded by Democrat conspiracies and avoided by the Commission on Presidential Debates. Foreign affairs were mentioned in the final match-up, but they didn’t dominate the evening as they traditionally had.
The same commission so badly mishandled arrangements for the second debate after its second moderator publicly consulted NeverTrump crusader Anthony Scaramucci that it was canceled altogether, and the candidates participated in televised town halls instead. Trump faced lectures from NBC’s Savannah Guthrie, while Biden enjoyed a prime-time evening with former President Bill Clinton’s White House Communications Director George Stephanopoulos. Biden fielded questions from an audience stacked with Democrats while Stephanopoulos refused to ask a single question about the scandalous reporting from The New York Post.
In January, the Republican National Committee (RNC) announced for good reason that its candidates for 2024 would no longer be compelled by party rules to cooperate with the Commission on Presidential Debates following the forum’s refusal to adopt changes.
“The RNC has a duty to ensure that its future presidential nominees have the opportunity to debate their opponents on a level playing field,” said RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel.
More importantly, the commission failed to foster discussion that could have foreshadowed for Americans how one candidate’s weaknesses would embarrass the nation in Afghanistan, and stumble into a humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.