For months, critics and candidates have been publicly denouncing what they view as open favoritism of the Democratic National Committee (and particularly DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz) toward Hillary Clinton. Even DNC members have objected to the role of the DNC and the view that it is trying to guarantee that Clinton is the nominee. One of the most commonly cited (and commonly accepted) examples are the small number of debates scheduled by the DNC at hours that guarantee the least exposure for Clinton. That criticism is likely to become deafening this Sunday when the key debate before the Iowa caucus will be scheduled not only on a Sunday night but in direct conflict with the NFL playoffs and the new episode of Downton Abbey. Our house is a typical example of the obvious dilemma. My wife is a Downton Abbey fan and, as you know, I am a football fan. The result? The debate might as well have been held by the DNC on Mars. It is a schedule that only Max Bialystock could truly love. [Update: despite virtual universal derision over the scheduling of the debates, Wasserman Schultz went public today and claimed that the schedule was actually designed to “maximize” exposure. This type of statement only magnifies the view that party leaders and some politicians have such a low opinion of voters that it borders on open contempt. How would scheduling a debate on a Sunday night in conflict with two of the biggest television draws maximize viewership — putting aside the refusal to allow more debates as demanded by two of the three candidates and many voters? Indeed, if she was implausibly trying for the largest audience, she is grossly negligent as the low ratings have proven.]
Despite this bizarre and overt effort to minimize audiences, any effort to shield Clinton is failing if recent polls are an indicator. Clinton is falling in the polls much as she did in 2008 and the bias of the DNC is resonating with the base.
What is curious to me is that I thought Clinton was doing quite well in debates and recent interviews. The clumsiness that we saw earlier seems to have been largely removed. In other words, she really does not need the help from the DNC. Indeed, all of this weird minimalist scheduling is simply reaffirming the view of her critics that she is an establishment insider and that there is no real choice being allowed voters.
The scheduling on Sunday is also playing into GOP critics like Sen. Ted Cruz who observed that “They keep scheduling the Democratic debates at like 2 a.m. on Alaska PBS. It’s almost like they don’t want anybody to see their candidates for president.”
I find all of this fascinating to watch (or not watch in the case of the Democratic debates) because it seems so counterproductive and damaging to both the Clinton campaign and the DNC. The conventional wisdom has long been that parties want as many people to watch debates as possible. Conversely, this seems engineered to be a flop like the DNC version of “The Producers”
In the end, when the low ratings roll in, the DNC could always quote Downton Abbey with a sense of satisfaction: “We were a show that flopped”