Yes, I said “night one.” The Democratic clown car is so full that it’ll take two nights to unload everyone. No less than 20 candidates have qualified and you can’t have anything resembling a “debate” with 20 people jockeying for time and attention. So the DNC decided to split the field into two groups, with 10 to debate on night one and the other 10 to debate on night two.
And how would they choose the composition of the two groups? Pure luck o’ the draw, my friend.
Which led to some unusual suspense for a political pageant. Depending on which group you end up in, you might be either the star of the show or stuck competing with a bunch of top-tier candidates for attention. Likewise, if by chance you share the stage with someone in your “lane” of the primary, you might expect more attacks than you would if you end up sharing it with a bunch of candidates who are competing for other constituencies.
The DNC announced the draw today. I think Warren is the chief beneficiary.
NBC has the two groups, Purple and Orange.
NBC now huddling to see which group goes first..?
— Ruby Cramer (@rubycramer) June 14, 2019
Most of the heavy hitters are lumped into the “purple” group — Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, and the Bernie/Biden ideological death match — whereas Warren’s the only top-tier candidate in the “orange” group. Most of the rest in “orange” are asterisk candidates who’ll be more interested in introducing themselves to the public than in attacking her. The one former top-tier candidate onstage with her, Beto O’Rourke, isn’t really aiming at the same progressive constituency as she is; he’s more likely to jab at the absent Joe Biden than at Warren. The only threat she faces potentially will come from Cory Booker, who may be desperate enough to make a splash after languishing for so long in the polls that he’ll come after her. Booker has some big policy ideas of his own, after all. Jawing with Warren might end up as his way to try to establish himself as a wonkish candidate to rival her.
Some people think this is a bad draw for Warren, actually:
I think I’d rather have Biden in my group if I were Warren or pretty much any of the other frontrunners. https://t.co/XWa34A2e9R
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) June 14, 2019
Oh shit! Sen. Warren got stuck in the kids debate. https://t.co/c3ToQSNyft
— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) June 14, 2019
Warren hardest hit. No one will watch that debate. https://t.co/jMySeP6Lkw
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) June 14, 2019
Meh. Ratings will be good even for the “kiddie table” debate. Democratic voters are amped up to defeat Trump and eager to get the process started. They’ll tune in. And the “kiddie table” is less of a liability at the first debate than at subsequent ones since, for many voters, this will be their first look at all of the candidates. No one’s really an also-ran at this stage. (Except Eric Swalwell.) As for Silver’s critique, why should Warren want to get her hands dirty early by wrestling with Biden when there’ll be three other top-tier candidates on stage with him who’ll do it for her? Bernie can prosecute the progressive case against him as well as she can. She can sit back, watch the carnage, and rest easy that she won’t be in line for any of Biden’s return fire.
Besides, the DNC has already set the rules to start whittling the field going forward so that top-tier candidates don’t get stuck at the kiddie table as voters begin getting more serious about the race. The cut-off for the third debate in September will require candidates to notch at least two percent in four separate polls between late June and late August *and* to draw 130,000 individual donors with at least 400 from 20 different states. Gillibrand’s time at the “adult table” will be short, in other words. Warren will have to face the grown-ups soon enough.
For now, she should savor her luck. Oh, except for the fact that her group will go on night one while the “adult table” will go on night two. Anyone in the latter group who wants to take a shot at her won’t need to worry about her responding. At least not on camera.
Update: As I think more about it, I’m inclined to say that going on night one is actually a benefit to her too. Democratic voters may be eager for the primaries to start, but even political junkies can take only so much of public debates. There are destined to be some Dems who are willing to watch two hours of candidates debating but not four hours. Wouldn’t surprise me if the audience on night one exceeds the audience on night two, the Bernie/Biden fight notwithstanding.