Do the Democrats Not Want People to Watch Their Debates?

Elections
Democratic 2020 presidential candidates participate in the eighth Democratic 2020 presidential debate at in Manchester, N.H., February 7, 2020. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

The most recent Democratic debate was on a Friday night. The next debate is tomorrow evening, a Wednesday. The next debate after that, in South Carolina and airing on CBS News, will be held on the evening of February 25, a Saturday. The following debate, airing on CNN, will be held March 15, which is another Saturday night.

Two Saturday nights and a Friday night, just as the primary heats up? Do the Democrats not want people to watch their debates?

The DNC did this last cycle, too: After the first debate in October, the next three debates were held on weekends — two Saturday nights and a Sunday night, right after the playoff football games. Unsurprisingly, viewership plummeted. Americans have things they like to do on weekends, and watching debates is not one of them.

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Our old friend Tiana Lowe speculates that the Democratic National Committee doesn’t want big audiences for the debates, “not because the party bosses want to protect a favorite, but because they can’t pick at all.” But small debate audiences don’t make the decision any easier or harder. Why wouldn’t a party want the biggest audience possible, in preparation for a tough general election campaign against a no-holds-barred incumbent?

Then again, these next few debates could get really nasty. Warren’s already calling Bloomberg an “egomaniac billionaire.” Sanders’s national press secretary called Bloomberg “a racist authoritarian,” and Sanders accused the Democratic establishment of “trembling in fear” because “working people are standing up demanding decent wages.” Joe Biden said Sanders’s supporters were “Trump-like” in their attacks. Maybe the DNC is afraid that viewers will tune in, see the candidates attacking each other and conclude that all of the options on the Democratic side are deeply flawed.

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