Here Comes the Not-So-Fun-to-Watch 24

Elections
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Michael Bennet (D., Colo.) speaks in Washington, D.C., April 10, 2019. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Colorado senator Michael Bennet makes 21 Democratic presidential candidates, and the impending announcement of New York City mayor Bill de Blasio will bring the total to 22. Our Dan McLaughlin asks whether we should include Mike Gravel and Montana governor Steve Bullock, apparently still seriously considering a bid.

That would make 24, and if it all pans out, this will be the worst 24 since Sangalese rebels took over the White House by sneaking in through the sewers.

We’ve seen Pete Buttigieg break into the top tier, but the odds are stacked pretty heavily against the remaining lesser-known candidates. The DNC thresholds for the debates are set way too low; you need either one percent — one percent! — in three polls or have 65,000 individual donors. Getting 65,000 people to donate to your campaign is not that hard, particularly if you do something like John Delaney’s gimmick of offering to give to charities on donors’ behalf if they chip into his campaign. The New York Times calculates that 17 candidates have met the threshold so far, and Bennet, de Blasio, and Bullock could all reach 65,000 donors or hit one percent support in three polls, and Seth Moulton probably can do it, too.

The DNC had been contemplating two-night debates, but now each night is going to have at least eight candidates, and perhaps as many as 12. You’ll be waiting for them to get back to Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders, and you’ll have to sit through two minutes of Eric Swalwell, and then two minutes of Tim Ryan, and then two minutes of Delaney, and then two minutes of Moulton, each one determined to show that they’re even more opposed to Trump than the Democratic official who spoke before them.

There is not much ideological or policy variety among these candidates. Maybe John Hickenlooper and Bennet and Bullock will represent a somewhat centrist position, but another dozen will be insisting, “I’m the true progressive in this race.” We’re going to hear “back in my city, as mayor, I laid out a plan to . . . ” from Buttigieg, de Blasio, and maybe Julian Castro, Cory Booker, and Hickenlooper. You’ll hear a lot of “I introduced legislation to . . . ” or “I led the fight in the Senate to . . . ” (To re-use a line from the Kerry Spot days, “I led the fight on this issue” usually means, “I gave a speech on this topic that was only seen by people watching C-SPAN at that moment.”)

Oh, and don’t be surprised if the audience for the second night isn’t as big as the first night. It’s not an exact comparison, but back in August 2015, the “undercard” debate of lower-polling candidates had a quarter of the audience that the main debate had. The audience for the first two was huge — 24 million for the first, 23 million for the second — but then settled in the 11 million to 18 million range for the rest. There’s a lot of curiosity at first — but then listening to a long line of candidates all offer variations of the same message gets boring.

Each candidate will have just a few minutes to speak at a time, with lots of other candidates standing next to them, saying similar things. Yet right now, a lot of these one-to-two percenters are utterly convinced they’re going to have a breakthrough moment in the debate, and dazzle Democratic primary voters with their undeniable raw charisma and star appeal.

Good luck with that!

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