Throughout this past week, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) came under attack by several Democratic candidates for its ‘restrictive’ qualification requirements for the end of June Democratic Primary debates. The DNC requires candidates to either receive a 1% on three recognized national polls, or get donations from 65,000 people, with 200 of those originating from 20 states.
The attacks primarily came from NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio, NY Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Montana Governor Steve Bullock. All three of the complaining candidates either struggled qualifying – only meeting one of the requirements – or didn’t qualify at all. A coincidence? I don’t think so.
It is quite obvious that these candidates are criticizing the DNC’s requirements because they were not able to fulfill them. Gillibrand called the 65,000-donor threshold as “not determinative of any of the things that matter about whether I’d beat Trump.” Sen. Gillibrand should then explain to us how she plans to beat Trump without engaging in grassroots fundraising; perhaps she hopes that by appearing a couple more times on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show, she will be able to convince Rust Belt voters to trust her? Given Gillibrand’s history of flip-flopping on situations – the Senator blatantly declared that she would serve her entire 6 term as Senator in her final debate before re-election, just to announce her run for President 13 days after it – I wouldn’t be surprised if she were instead, to stand up to defend the DNC requirements in a few days.
Gillibrand should learn from Congressman Seth Moulton who, despite having failed to meet both requirements, acknowledged his defeat and moved on, foregoing an attack on the DNC for his failures. “No, I’m not going to make the first debate, but I knew that getting in so late. But I think that’s OK, this first debate’s going to have 20 people. Folks are barely going to get a chance to speak. This is a long campaign. It’s going to get decided by the American people”, he stated.
Moulton raises an important issue: with so many candidates on the debate stage, will there be any ‘actual’ debate going on? Keeping in mind that the debates are going to be 2 hours long, and assuming that approximately 40 minutes are going to be taken up by introductions, commercial breaks, and questions, we are left with only 80 minutes to be spread amongst 10 candidates. Can a candidate fully deliver his or her proposals while rebutting those of the competitors in just 8 minutes? I seriously doubt that. Now, just imagine if we followed Sen. Gillibrand’s implicit desire of lowering the donor threshold so that more candidates could participate in the debates, we would be lucky if we heard one statement from each candidate, forget 8 minutes!
With so little time available for candidates to elaborate on their proposals, there’s a concrete risk of unproductive communication. Since there is so little time to initiate a serious discussion on issues, candidates may be tempted to promise unachievable things or outrageously attack other candidates just to receive some media attention—to create the ‘sound byte’. This may be especially true for candidates that are currently polling very low and desperately need these nationwide television debates to bolster their credentials and amp up their name recognition. In fact, after the end of June debates, the journey will get tougher for many; in order to qualify for the next round of debates, candidates need to secure 130,000 donations or 2 percent in polls. Many will be left out if they don’t make a lasting impression in the upcoming debates. Let’s just hope that candidates will be mature enough to utilize their 8 minutes to explain what they would do as President, and avoid pointless attacks that would only hurt their country’s reputation.