Monday, December 21, 2015

The night before Christmas: Democrats debate in the shadows

To extend John Nichols' (The Nation) essay on the Democratic debates - or, rather, the lack thereof:

'Twas the night before Christmas, on most of the box

No anchor was stirring, not even at Fox;

The debates were planned by the Party with care,

In hopes that the voters soon would be there;

Adapted from A Visit from St. Nicholas with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore.

What is the DNC thinking? The GOPlins are all over prime time news on weekday evenings. The Dems are stuck on Saturday night in the holiday season. It gets worse. The numbers are not good. Here are snippets from Nichols the recent debate and the DNC schedule.

Unfortunately, this consequential Saturday night debate was held on a Saturday night. And not just any Saturday night—the last one before the last great pause in the political calendar that comes during the period from Christmas to New Year’s Day.

“I guess Christmas Eve was booked,” Michael Briggs, a spokesman for Sanders, told The New York Times.

“They’ve scheduled it during shopping season, December 19th,” complained O’Malley, whose campaign needs all the debate exposure it can get. “I don’t know why that is. I think it’s out of a false sense that they have to circle the wagons around the inevitable front-runner.”

And do you wonder why there is abundant suspicion about the DNC's motives and competence? Of course the DNC defends its decisions.

Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her aides beg to differ, as they prattle on about “robust” viewership.

That’s just silly. The latest debate attracted a mere 6.71 million viewers, the lowest number so far for any 2016 debate organized by the DNC or the RNC. Saturday night’s debate was such a flop that it barely attracted one quarter of the viewership of the most watched Republican debate.

[The] November Democratic debate was on a Saturday night in Des Moines. From a viewership standpoint, it was a disaster. That debate attracted only around 8.5 million viewers—barely one-third of the total that watched the first Republican debate. The response of the O’Malley campaign to those numbers was the right one: “We can’t fool ourselves—the Republicans are eating our lunch in terms of attention and viewership because of the unprecedented, unilateral, and arbitrary way the DNC Chair determined this schedule,” said O’Malley deputy campaign manager Lis Smith.

Remember the definition of insanity?

So what are the Democrats doing? Holding more weekend debates.

The Republicans got started months sooner with three times the number of scheduled debates. And that's just some of the embarrassing stats.

By any measure, the Democratic schedule is insufficient.

How insufficient? Not since 1980 has a major party with a competitive race for the nomination scheduled so few debates, according to FiveThirtyEight.

So what to do? Nichols winds up with the obvious.

The DNC needs to schedule more debates on more nights when more Americans are watching.

That’s good for Democrats. And that’s good for democracy—especially in what is shaping up as an entirely unpredictable and frequently volatile political season that ought not be dominated by one party. As Lis Smith says, “It’s clear we need to open up the process, have more debates, and engage more voters in this process.”

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