It seemed like a good idea at the time. Hillary Clinton would be coronated by the Democrats, so there was no need for many debates. Keep the number of them low — six in total, with only four before the Iowa caucus — and thereby minimize the risk that Clinton will look bad before a large audience.
It’s less clear now that this is a good idea. The many Democratic voters who don’t want a coronation would welcome more debates. Moreover, if there is a strong new entrant (say, Joe Biden) and/or if Clinton is crippled by new developments in her email scandal, even the Party establishment might wish for additional debates.
The issue of debates boiled over today at the Democratic National Committee’s summer meeting in Minneapolis. According to the Washington Post:
What began as a routine forum of candidate speeches evolved into a surprisingly dramatic day. . .as Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley issued thinly veiled attacks on Clinton and the party leadership.
Speaking from the dais, with DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz sitting a few feet away, O’Malley blasted the party’s limited number of sanctioned debates as a process “rigged” in favor of the frontrunner. . . “This sort of rigged process has never been attempted before,” said O’Malley, who has struggled to gain traction in the polls. He added: “We are the Democratic Party, not the undemocratic party.”
Sanders told reporters he agreed with O’Malley. He lamented low Democratic turnout in last year’s midterm elections and said the party must grow beyond “politics as usual” if it hopes to produce the level of voter enthusiasm required to retain the White House in 2016.
Sanders has a point. It’s one thing to coronate a candidate with momentum. It’s another to try, on behalf of a presumptive nominee who is neither liked nor trusted by the electorate at large, to run out the clock on a surging candidate like Sanders.
O’Malley noted that Republicans are dominating news coverage. Some Democrats consider this a good thing because (1) it deflects attention from Hillary’s email scandal and (2) the Republican spectacle may not be playing all that well.
But whatever one thinks of the overall tenor of the Republican campaign, some candidates are making a favorable impression without generating high “unfavorables,” and it’s conceivable that the GOP might even nominate one of them. Furthermore, as O’Malley and Sanders suggest, the Democrats rely on voter enthusiasm, which makes it risky for them not to put on a good show during the next six months.
Be that as it may, the Dems are locked into their minimalist process, just as, barring dramatic developments, they may be locked into the flawed candidate for whom it was designed.