Vox: Say, why is the DNC scheduling debates when no one watches?

Does Alvin Chang really have to ask? Give him credit, though, for following through on this controversy and finding out that there really seems to be something to it. This started with complaints at dKos that Debbie Wasserman Schultz was deliberately burying the debates on days people wouldn’t watch them. Last Friday night’s MSNBC “forum” only drew 2.3 million viewers, a tenth of the either of the first two GOP debates, not exactly a surprise on a date night. Sunshine State News’ Nancy Smith accused Wasserman Schultz of deliberately protecting Hillary Clinton by making sure no challenger gained traction on her through the debates:



Obama was a virtual unknown going into the 2008 Democratic primaries. But after he participated in 26 debates, he had gained unstoppable traction through the kind of exposure money can’t buy.

So, what does DWS do this time?

She limits the number of debates to six and threatens to penalize any candidate who tries to debate outside of the sanctioned events. …

Did you even know that last Friday night MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow hosted a presidential candidates forum in South Carolina featuring Martin O’Malley, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton? Few people I know had any idea. But why would they on a Friday night, when people generally have better things to do.

You also may not be aware that the same three candidates will be debating this Saturday night. I’m talking about an actual debate this time, one of the six sanctioned by the DNC. On Saturday night, can you believe it? Just as the college football season is coming down the stretch and people who aren’t watching college football are out enjoying themselves with friends and family.

The third Democratic debate, on the evening of Dec. 19, is also on a Saturday. The fourth is on a Sunday during the NFL playoffs, and it will be the final debate before nominating begins.


With all of this bubbling to the surface, Chang decided to take a look at all of the presidential primaries since the 2000 cycle, and their viewership. Which day does best? Thursdays, actually, while Saturdays are the worst. And so …

Republicans have scheduled most of their debates on days that historically fare quite well. Democrats have not, with just one Thursday debate. It’s not rocket science, since there’s plenty of data from Nielsen and other companies that help predict when people will be in front of their TV sets. But that also means it’s not rocket science to schedule debates on incredibly inconvenient dates.

Chang notes that Wasserman Schultz has defended her debate policy by claiming to have consulted with former DNC chairs and her current slate of DNC officials. But as Time Magazine found out, DWS’ predecessors call that flat-out false:

“She didn’t consult with me. I do not support the exclusivity clause,” said former DNC chair and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean in mid-October.

“I did not,” former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said in late October when asked if he consulted with her about the debates. “I did speak with her once the issue resolved.”

“No, she didn’t talk to me at all,” Don Fowler said on Thursday. The fourth former party chair that Wasserman Shultz said she consulted with is Virginia Gov. Terry McAulliffe, a longtime loyalist of Hillary Clinton, who did not return calls from TIME requesting comments. …

Last month, DNC Vice Chair R.T. Rybak accused her of lying about the debate schedule, saying in an interview with the New York Times that she had made “flat-out not true” statements about consulting with top Democratic Party officers.

“This is not a back-and-forth between a chair and a vice chair,” Rybak told the Times in mid-October. “This is a chair of the Democratic Party wrongly stating that she consulted with all of the party officers. I was not consulted. I know that (DNC vice chair) Tulsi Gabbard was not consulted. And this is becoming about much more than debates.”


After the DNC asked the former chairs to reconsider their remarks, they did note that they had talked briefly with Wasserman Shultz about debates, but that was all.

“Did we ever talk about this particular decision? No,” said Rendell. “She didn’t ask for input on the explicit decision.”

It’s pretty clear at this point that Wasserman Schultz wants to bury the debates to protect Hillary. But that also makes clear that the DNC chair thinks Hillary needs protecting, too — a tacit admission, at least, that she’s a poor candidate who’s likely to blow a lead like she did in 2008. Shouldn’t that be a message to other Democrats that they’re heading into disaster … again?

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