On July 30 and 31, 2019 (and in June, 2019), I witnessed so-called presidential debates featuring ten candidates on each successive night.

All four events were disasters for the Democratic National Committee, the candidates, and the public.

Coming off a 2016 race in which the DNC was criticized for favoring Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, it directed that 2020 would be different. In February, 2019, Tom Perez, its Chair, announced that in its June and July “debates” qualifying candidates would be required to have a donor threshold of $65,000 of at least $ 200 in each of twenty states plus achieve 1% in three polls.

In September’s events, the donor threshold goes to $ 130,000 of at least $400 in each of twenty states and at least 2% in three polls.

Each individual contribution can be as low as $ 1.

Having met the criteria, twenty candidates were selected over two nights in each of the June and July events.

The DNC criteria are based on no facts: there is no evidence that meeting the requirements confers any viability as presidential candidates. In fact, total staff in early primary or caucus states and total money raised would be more rational.

The criteria are an abstraction suggesting that there is some nexus between being a bona fide candidate and and the DNC requirements while people falling short are unworthy schleppers. This is like saying if you are good at geography, you can be a good physician.

What Chair Perez  and his DNC are unqualified to mount is a television show. That’s what these events are supposed to be. For all that appears, nobody at the DNC woke up to that fact until it was too late.

As a result, all four nights were terrible in at least the following respects:

Fighting for recognition.

There were supposed to be rules and times. Instead, since the ten candidates had but a few moments at the trough, they interrupted and insulted each other to get a tv nugget someone might notice. This combat had the moderators cutting off candidates with a curt “thank you.”

If I were the manager of a lesser candidate I would suggest calling out, “what am I, a potted plant?” when the biggies were favored.

Too many issues.

The babel could have been tempered if the DNC, that tv-savvy group of incompetents, had limited the number of issues to three or so per session instead of roving over every issue.

Democratic initiatives in health care were as complex as the binomial theorem.

Instead of emphasizing at this early stage that Republicans are taking health care away and Democrats are giving it back, we were treated to a series of candidate wrestling matches about abolishing private insurance in favor of a thirty trillion dollar wholly government-run plan. Little nuggets of contradictions inter se made clear that the candidates can agree on nothing. How does that help to beat Trump?

The viewer could not possibly make out exactly what the various plans were except that the each debater liked no plan but her own. These exchanges reminded me of FDR’s 1936 statement that the Republicans support his administration’s anti-depression programs, “cross their hearts, they do” he said. “They can do them better.  They can do them faster. And the doing of them won’t cost anybody any money!”

Anger, resentment and disapproval reigned.

These folks can’t stand Trump but they really don’t like each other.


These “debates” could have been tossed in the trash during the planning stage by several participants who DO understand television.

First, the people who run the cable nets. Why didn’t they come forward and explain how television works to the clueless DNC?

Second, television experts active in political television production over decades should have been consulted. People like Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, Garth Ancier, Barry Diller and many others. They know what they are doing and have done it.

Third, the campaigns. Why didn’t the campaigns revolt as this debacle approached? At least the stupidity of this format its something on which they can agree! Although it has administrative responsibility, the DNC is not the last word on how campaigns are run and should have had pushback from those directly affected.


Can Democrats overcome these pathetic disasters? Yes. But now is the time to act.