Democrats desperately didn’t want things to turn out this way. It wasn’t that long ago that Hillary Clinton was the “chosen one,” the name brand, next-in-line candidate who would carry them to victory in 2016. The Democratic National Committee did everything they could to help her maintain her frontrunner status, not the least of which was minimizing the number of debates the party would hold. After all, her name-ID was already through the roof, her favorability ratings could only go down, and she’s not exactly known for her debating skills.
But then the worm turned on the Clinton campaign–her past was dredged up, her private email server was discovered, and the Clinton Foundation’s money trail revealed itself. As a result, other Democrat candidates, Bernie Sanders chief among them, not only became viable, they became downright contenders.
Now, the DNC’s decision to limit the number of debates is coming under serious fire. And for good reason. Currently, the Democrat Party is hosting just six intramural debates, with only four occurring before the first primary in Iowa, and three of those happening on weekends, and one of those falling between Hanukkah and Christmas (not exactly peak viewing season).
In a recent interview, Democrat contender Martin O’malley called the format “party malpractice.”
“I think there’s an instinct within the establishment of political parties, there’s a tendency to calcify and to kind of circle the wagon, to fall back on old relationships instead of appreciating the truth that the American people are always looking for new leadership to move us forward,” the former Maryland governor said on the Thom Hartmann radio show.
It’s a feeling shared by Bernie Sanders, who currently leads two of the three early primary states.
“I do,” Sanders responded when asked on Friday whether he agrees with O’Malley’s assertion that the debate system is “rigged.”
Perhaps most importantly, it’s a view that seems to be shared by swaths of the electorate. Lauren Gambino reports for The Guardian:
When the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee Debbie Wasserman Schultz took the stage at a party convention in New Hampshire this weekend, her speech was drowned out with a resounding chant of “we want debates”.
Just days before, Democratic activists brought the issue to the DNC’s front door with dozens of protesters gathered outside – some from the Martin O’Malley campaign and others waving #FeeltheBern signs – demonstrated outside DNC headquarters in Washington DC, to demand that their party allow more presidential debates.
As demand for more debates become increasingly louder, the issue has gone from being an embarrassing sideshow to one that the DNC – and Hillary Clinton – may no longer be able to ignore.
Hillary Clinton is stuck in a no-win situation. If she says “yes” to more debates then she risks losing one of her key advantages, which is being able to avoid the topsy-turvy momentum spurts created by debates (just look at what the GOP debates have done for Carly Fiorina and to Scott Walker). But if she says “no” then she risks looking like the fragile candidate that Republicans know she is and exposing herself to both the risks of a leaden performance (almost guaranteed) and further questions about her past (absolutely guaranteed).
DNC chairwoman Wasserman-Schultz stepped up to take the punches on Clinton’s behalf.
“We’re going to have six debates. Period,” Wasserman-Schultz told reporters on Thursday. “We are not changing the process. We are having six debates, and candidates will be uninvited from any subsequent debates if they accept an invitation to a debate outside of the six DNC-sanctioned debates.”
Unfortunately, Wasserman-Schultz didn’t get the final word. In a joint statement posted to Facebook, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, both vice chairs for the DNC, called for increasing the number of debates.
“As vice chairs of the Democratic National Committee, we are calling for several more debates than the six currently scheduled, and withdrawing the proposed sanctions against candidates who choose to participate in non-DNC sanctioned debates,” they wrote.
“We are the party that represents democratic principles, openness and transparency, and ensuring that all people, regardless of who they are or where they are from, have a level playing field and equal opportunity,” Gabbard and Rybak continued. “By limiting Democratic debates to just six, more people will feel excluded from our political process, rather than included.”
Democrats may like to think that their party stands for those principles, but can they say that Hillary Clinton stands for openness and transparency? Ha. Not with a straight face. And that is why the DNC is unlikely to budge.
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