The DNC has made debate qualification rules that will bite them in the end.
Earlier this month, the third of 12 Democratic presidential debates took place. If that isn’t news to you, congrats! You’re in the minority. The Democratic Party isn’t good at advertising the debates, which is honestly their first problem. The glaring issue though isn’t the timing or advertising, it’s the composition.
The Democrats have decided on a new set of requirements for the third debate: gain at least two percent in four qualified polls and 130,000 donors in different states. This can be a tall order for some candidates, and is significantly more strenuous than Republicans in their third debate, where undercard candidates needed to only get one percent in three polls.
These restrictions and the single debate format have two effects: they limit the voices of candidates who might have a single issue they want brought up on the national stage (why they run), and they create an echo chamber where homogeneous ideas cause candidates to push further left in an effort to stand out. Neither of these are things I think the Democratic Party should be doing without giving the ideas the consideration they deserve.
By limiting the lower tier candidates, they are preventing some important issues to be raised. Candidates that might be polling lower might be doing so because they have a limited appeal, but anyone who saw Marianne Williamson in the first debate knows that some candidates still have something to offer (maybe just in terms of entertainment, but still) that we would not get with the top tier candidates.
Think of Julian Castro. His border wall policies were picked up by almost every candidate during the first debate, and at the time he was polling just above the minimum threshold to be on the stage. With a higher limit, he might have been excluded, just like his policies that are now boilerplate for the remaining candidates.
The state of the debates has also led to similarities in cornerstone policies becoming normal, especially for healthcare. Healthcare has become a central focus of several debates, with “Medicare for All” becoming a common sound byte. With fewer and fewer candidates, it seems likely that this shift left will continue as candidates strive to stand out from the basic plan, to abolishing private insurance as Sanders and Warren have promised to do.
This push left will not help candidates in the long run; early proposals of this kind have gotten pushback from Republicans and the general public. Healthcare especially has become a silver bullet; with a clear minority of voters preferring abolishing private insurance while several candidates support it. Pushing left won’t help lukewarm reception in the polls.
The Democratic Party’s current debate format and schedule seems to only be weakening the party as a whole, and that will make the Democratic challenger’s job that much harder against Trump. I don’t know who on the Democratic National Committee made these debate decisions, but this current debate criteria is creating debates that aren’t allowing the kind of discussion that will help voters choose the best candidate.