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Structural problem with Democratic debates


You may or may not care about the quality of the Democratic debates. So far, most of us at High Plains Pundit have watched them so that you don’t have to, and while they’ve had some moments of consequential drama, most of the preceding five nights have been stultifying and repetitive, a genuinely annoying group exercise in ritualized belief that bumper-sticker slogans can fix the world, that most of the country’s problems go away once Donald Trump is no longer president, and that anecdotes prove it.

The structural problem with these debates stems from having ten candidates on stage at the same time. The answers in the last debate were limited to a minute and 15 seconds because ABC News didn’t want to leave candidates quiet for a half-hour at a time. The debate was scheduled to be three hours long — mercifully, it actually ran about two hours and forty-five minutes — because there are ten candidates on stage and the moderators wanted to cover a lot of issues. As much as the candidates want to believe that that there are glaring and consequential differences among them in policy, those differences are hard to articulate without getting into the weeds, which is difficult to explain in 75 seconds. So the night turns into a competition of emoting and who can tell the best anecdote about an average American they met on the campaign trail who is dealing with a problem that only the candidate can solve.

Twelve candidates have qualified for the fourth debate, with the ten from the previous debate as well as Representative Tulsi Gabbard and billionaire Tom Steyer. The Democratic National Committee had an opportunity to hold two six-candidate debates over consecutive nights, a format that would allow longer answers, a reasonable two-hour or so running time, and just maybe the candidates would have a genuine exchange of views and ideas. For once, exchanges between candidates wouldn’t feature two or three other candidates trying to jump in and interject. The odds would be good that every candidate would walk away feeling like they had gotten enough time to speak.

Instead, the idiots at the DNC are just going to shove all twelve candidates on stage for the same night. I believe this would set a new record for most candidates participating in a prime-time debate simultaneously; eleven candidates participated in the CNN Republican primary debate Sept. 16, 2015.  (I suppose it’s possible Bernie Sanders can’t make it, depending upon his recovery from surgery.) We’ve had five nights of double-digit candidates, with the serious contenders sharing time with the also-rans, the never-weres, and the asterisks. And now the DNC wants to make sure we get at least one more debate like this, before trimming the debate stage down to single digits.

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