At this point in the primary process, what voters are craving—what we need—is to see four candidates on the same stage at the same time. Those candidates are Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris. If you want to throw Pete Buttigieg in, even though he has made exactly zero inroads with black voters, fine, but those first four are the frontrunners, and everyone else is a no-hoper. What’s more, we need those four to debate on a smaller stage, where we won’t have Jake Tapper or Anderson Cooper throwing it to John Hickenlooper every 30 seconds for an irrelevant take.
After the debacle of the first two debates, it wasn’t unreasonable to think we might get there. Instead, for the next debate(s) in Houston on Sept. 12, the DNC decided to do the following:
1. Hold two debates, with the field split in half randomly, unless
2. There were ten or fewer qualifying candidates, in which case they’d all go on the same night.
What that meant, in practice is that either the major candidates would be split up in smaller fields, or they’d be together in a really large one—both of which fail to meet the criteria of the ideal debate. (Worse, the requirements for the October debate are exactly the same, giving the candidates who get crossed off the list more time to rejoin the fray.)
These are terrible bylaws, and as it happens, it looks like the DNC is going to wind up with exactly ten candidates, meaning they’ll have one giant cluster**** of a debate just like the first four.
And because the criteria are so liberal, the few candidates who are cut off this time—Tulsi Gabbard, Tom Steyer, Kirsten Gillibrand, Marianne Williamson, among others—will likely rejoin in October, inflating the field back to an unreasonable 14 or more.
What makes the DNC’s self-owns so aggravating is that there’s an easy solution: Split the ten-person field into two nights five (it was going to be six and five if an 11th candidate qualified!), and then do what the Republicans did in 2016, which is to put the lower-tier candidates together so that the big names can share the stage alone on their own night.
Is that so hard? If you’re Tom Perez and the DNC, the answer is yes—just as hard, at least, as holding a climate change debate.