Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Debate Debate: Up to Clinton & Obama

I've long thought debates are over-rated. They sway few truly undecided voters, and the audience is mostly the true believers and the press.

That said, there's a fair amount of grumbling in the Democratic Party, and even in the higher levels of the Democratic Party, about the smaller number of debates in 2016 compared to 2008.

Most notably, the titular vice chairs of the DNC, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, in a rare open dissent, publicly called on chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to schedule more debate.

DWS's response to the debate debate was direct and blunt: "There will be six debates. Period." And she's not even bothering to hide her contempt for Martin O'Malley.
Classic stink eye there.

Let's address the donkey in the room here. Despite her official chair stance neutrality, Wasserman Schultz is pretty obviously in the Hillary Clinton camp, as she was in 2008 until the bitter end, and as she was when she spent months on cable shows defending her home state's rule breaking and attacking caucus states and early states. That, and her Israel First foreign policy views, are why I'm not a fan.

And let's also set aside the titles. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is not really in charge here. No national party chair is, not when the party has a president in the White House.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz is clearly not going to listen to the Sandernistas or the backers of the single digit three. There are two people she's going to listen to: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, I'm not sure in which order. The public complaints only matter in the sense that they get the two people with the real power to act.

The push for more debates needs to come from Hillary herself, and for her to push for that she needs to be convinced it's in her interest. Or it needs to come from Wasserman Schultz's boss, the president, who is legacy focused, trying to deal with a WIll He Or Won't He vice president (won't) and may well want to stay out of it.

Hillary has said the right things...
"I debated a lot in 2008 and I would certainly be there with lots of enthusiasm and energy if (the DNC) decide to add more debates," Clinton said during a press conference in Portsmouth. "And I think that's the message a lot of people are sending their way."
...in public.

But the important conversation about debates isn't the public conversation. It's the private conversation that is - or, more likely, is not - happening.

Hillary Clinton can absolutely hold her own in a debate, and none of the opponents are a Barack Obama or a John Edwards or a Joe Biden this time. She has nothing to fear, and I doubt she's scared.

But the mere fact of a debate makes Sanders and O'Malley and Webb and even Chaffee her equal for that 90 to 120 minutes.

And perhaps more important, because the main audience for that debate is not Truly Undecided Voters, but the media, the media (which as we all know just ADORES Hillary Clinton) gets to write the narrative. Somebody - not Sanders or O'Malley, probably Lincoln "Nothing To Lose" Chaffee - makes The Character Attack or The Iraq War Vote Attack, and bada bing, that's the national headline and sound bite.

If Hillary really wants more debates, she can get more debates. She calls Debbie Wasserman Schultz and says "I really seriously do want more debates." Barack Obama could make that call to Clinton and Wasserman Schultz too. Boom. Debbie schedules them tomorrow.

But not only is she not doing that, she's doubling down. "Six. Debates. Period." She's also willing to make herself the scapegoat and take the heat from the party base.

That tells us all we need to know about how the private conversations are going. And it's getting really late.

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