The second Republican Presidential candidate debate was last night. The ratings for the first one (24 million viewers) were through the roof and last night’s (20 million) was also a ratings blockbuster. People are interested and tuning in to the campaign and the Republicans are getting all the “eyeballs.”
Meanwhile there hasn’t been even a hint of a Democratic candidate debate. What’s going on? Why are the Democrats letting Republicans have the attention and audience? Do they feel the party has nothing to offer – or worse, something to hide?
“Just spell my name right.” It is basic marketing that any publicity is good publicity.
The Last Time, Debate After Debate
As of this date in 2007 there had already been several Democratic debates.
The first debate was April 26, 2007, at South Carolina State University, Orangeburg, South Carolina. Present were Senator Joesph Biden, Senator Hillary Clinton, Senator Christopher Dodd, John Edwards, Mike Gravel, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Senator Barack Obama, Governor William Richardson and the debate was moderated by Brian Williams. Afterward Democrats debated at these events:
- June 3, 2007 at Saint Anselm College, Goffstown, New Hampshire.
- June 28, 2007 at Howard University, Washington, D.C.
- July 12, 2007 at the NAACP convention, Detroit.
- July 23, 2007 at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina.
- August 4, 2007 at the YearlyKos convention in Chicago.
- August 7, 2007 in Chicago, sponsored by the AFL-CIO.
- August 9, 2007 in Los Angeles, an LGBT debate sponsored by the LOGO cable channel.
- August 19, 2007 in Des Moines, the Iowa Democratic Party/ABC debate.
- September 9, 2007 at University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, broadcast by Univision and simultaneously translated to Spanish.
So that is 10 debates up to now in the 2008 “cycle,” 11 if you count a September 12 “mashup” debate comprised of individual candidate interviews conducted for Yahoo News and The Huffington Post.
This Time, Silence
This time the Democratic Party has disappeared entirely from the 2016 presidential campaign – at least as far as prime-time, televised, mass-audience, attention-grabbing, awareness-driving, conversation-starting, media-triggering debates are concerned. The party has taken itself out of the game, and more and more people are asking why.
Eight years ago the first debate was in April, 2007. This time the first debate is not scheduled until October 13 – a seven-month difference. (A seven-month media vacuum.) October 13 is the day after a three-day weekend for many people. Is this an intentional attempt to limit the audience?
That first debate will be a CNN/Salem Radio event in Las Vegas. CNN? Who watches CNN anymore? And Salem Radio is a conservative Christian network. WTF? Is this an intentional attempt to limit the audience and force hostile questions?
So far there have been seven months and 10 or 11 debates-worth of lost opportunity and visibility for Democratic ideas and candidates. But wait, there’s more. In the 2008 cycle there were two more Democratic candidate debates between now and the time of the first scheduled debate on October 13: a September 20, 2007 PBS “health care” debate in Davenport, Iowa, and a September 26, 2007 MSNBC debate at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.
The second Republican debate is tonight, with a huge audience expected. The second 2016-cycle Democratic candidate debate is not scheduled until November 14, with CBS/Des Moines Register in Des Moines, Iowa. Then the third Democratic debate is not scheduled until just before the holidays on December 19, in Manchester, New Hampshire.
The fourth debate will take place January 17, 2016 in Charleston, South Carolina with NBC News and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute. Like the October 13 debate, this debate is scheduled on a holiday weekend.
After that there are only two more debates, not yet scheduled, one with Univision (Spanish language.)
What’s Going On?
Why are the Democrats hiding their candidates? What’s going on? Even when they are having a rare debate, the schedule appears to be designed to limit the potential audience.
This is basic marketing, people. Exposure is good. Repetition is good. If you want to reach the public, you have to reach the public.
Instead the Democratic Party is hiding their candidates from the public. Why?
One candidate being hurt by the restriction on debates is Hillary Clinton. (You may have heard that name somewhere – but not in a 2016-cycle debate.) Clinton has offered a very strong set of policy proposals. (Click through, really, she has.) But in the absence of any events to distract the media and bring attention to the positions of the Democratic candidates Clinton is hounded by the email pseudo-scandal. (By the way, like the Benghazi pseudo-scandal, can anyone explain what she is supposed to have done that is wrong?) With no debates to move the conversation along to the issues the media has almost no choice but to focus on this weird non-story.
Candidate Martin O’Malley also wants to know why the Democratic Party leadership is limiting the number of debates. O’Malley has a lot to offer. For example, in August he offered a very strong plan to expand retirement security – at a time when so many Americans need exactly that. O’Malley has also offered a very strong (and badly needed) criminal justice reform plan. Take a look at his “vision” page. Bet you didn’t know he was offering such a good set of proposals – and you won’t know because the Democratic Party has limited the debate schedule.
And then there’s Bernie Sanders. Sanders would also benefit from the exposure an expanded debate schedule would offer. His biggest problem is still name recognition. As Democrats hear his ideas they largely support his ideas. (Some people think this is why the party leadership is limiting debates.)
(P.S. take a look at Bernie’s DemocracyDaily.)
The Democratic Party Would Benefit From More Debates
Overall the entire Democratic Party would benefit from having many, many more televised debates. This time the Democrats have a strong message that resonates with the majority of the public. (Click here to see for yourself.) This time they have strong candidates. This time they have the moral high ground.
And this time they aren’t letting the public know these things.
Why is the Democratic Party being so undemocratic? Why are they limiting the number of debates? Why are they trying to keep their candidates hidden from the public and letting the Republicans set the narrative?
Meanwhile, while we’re on the subject of strangling the debates, The Onion from 2008: “New Debate Rules Allow For One 15-Second Strangulation“:
“Both candidates will receive two minutes to answer each question, five minutes for discussion, and a one-time-only option to walk over to their opponent’s podium and cut off his oxygen supply for up to 15 seconds,” a statement from the Commission on Presidential Debates read in part, also specifying that debate moderator Jim Lehrer can exercise his own discretion in determining whether or not the strangulations go over time. “After being choked, the candidate, if still standing, may counter with one of his two allotted empty beer bottles to the head.”
That would draw ratings.
Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. It also appeared on September 17, 2015 on Seeing the Forest, a website featuring commentary by Dave Johnson, frequent public speaker and talk-radio guest and a leading participant in the progressive blogging community. It was reproduced here with the consent of Mr. Johnson.