Just when we thought they were out — the DNC pulled them back in. After two clown-car presidential debates that generated heat at the total expense of light, many breathed a sigh of relief when the DNC imposed eligibility requirements for the third that will knock half of the quasi-candidates off the stage. Rather than continue to whittle candidates down as the process gets closer to the caucuses and primaries, however, the DNC’s setup for an October debate will likely allow most of the bumped candidates to take an encore:

The deadline to qualify for the September debate is Aug. 28, just a little over three weeks away. To reach the stage, candidates have to get 2 percent in four Democratic National Committee-approved polls and have 130,000 unique donors. That’s a bar that the majority of field has not hit and isn’t on track to do so.

But a DNC memo sent to all the campaigns on Monday essentially gives those candidates who miss the September debate more time to qualify for the October debate, which could very well feature more candidates, not fewer.

The DNC memo sets the deadline to reach 130,000 total donors and score at 2 percent in four polls until two weeks before the October debate, and starts on June 28, the same day qualification for the September debate began. Effectively, this means all the candidates who qualify for the September debate are automatically in the October debate, unless they drop out of the race. And any candidate who misses the September debate has more time to receive new donations or score 2 percent in the polls.

How much extra time will there be? No exact date was given for the fourth debate in the memo, but even an early October date would add about three weeks to the qualification period ending in late August.

As of now, with three weeks to go before the qualification deadline for the September debate, only seven candidates have confirmed their spots. Another three are on the bubble, which means that Democrats could end up with the same structural problem in the next debate but only on one night rather than two. There are just too many people on stage at the same time for a substantive debate, and that sets the incentives for all the fringe candidates to sling mud and conduct stunts to garner attention and donors.

Before this, it appeared the DNC would progressively tighten the prerequisites to a point where only those candidates with realistic shots at winning delegates would remain on stage. However, now it appears that the DNC might be afraid to impose such restrictions, perhaps because of what happened four years ago when the DNC attempted to shield Hillary Clinton from any effective challenge for the nomination.

Talk about learning the wrong lessons from failure! They’re leaving their better-prepared candidates at the mercy of the fringies. One would think that the Tulsi Gabbard attack on Kamala Harris would have prompted tougher prerequisites rather than effectively relaxing them.

Not that it makes much difference, at least at this stage. Morning Consult declared Elizabeth Warren the winner of last week’s debate, Harris one of the losers, and yet nothing much has changed:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren easily prevailed in last week’s primary debates in Detroit, according to a new poll out Tuesday.

Three out of 10 respondents dubbed Warren the winner for her debate performance last week, a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll of registered Democratic primary voters found. Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden rounded out the top three with 18 percent and 14 percent of respondents dubbing them the top performers, respectively. …

Despite voters decisively saying that Warren put on the best performance out of the 20 candidates featured over the course of two nights, they were not as confident in her ability to beat President Donald Trump in next year’s general election.

That distinction went to Biden, who 42 percent of primary voters said had the best chance of unseating Trump — more than double his next closest competitor. Sanders came in second, with 17 percent giving him the best chance of beating the president, followed by Warren, who 13 percent of voters said had the best chance of knocking Trump out of office.

That’s the same 1-2-3 that’s in place in national polling, too. That might be because all three candidates are busy arguing with also-rans rather than each other, despite being (along with Harris) significantly better off in the polls than the rest of the field. Today’s RCP aggregate average chart again shows the obvious divide for the DNC to use to generate more substantive and useful debates:

Biden and Sanders are actually ticking up after the debate and Warren has slightly declines, while Harris has begun tailing off more significantly. All of them are above 10%, while the closest candidate to them — Pete Buttigieg — is barely above 5%. None of the other fringe candidates are making any kind of move despite getting two splashy platforms for their stunt campaigns. Why keep putting frontrunners at risk by giving the fringe candidates going nowhere prime-time access to take potshots at them?