CNN is really softening up their debate rules

We’re twenty days away from the next round of debates, with the circus heading to Motor City this time. We won’t know for sure who made the cut until July 17th, but CNN is hosting the event with a panel of three moderators. They will be Jake Tapper, Dana Bash and Don Lemon. All of the potential participants just received the updated rules for the event and there are some changes in there that the Democrats are probably going to like. (CNN, emphasis added)

Colored lights will be used to help the candidates manage their remaining response times: 15 seconds = yellow; 5 seconds = flashing red; no time remaining = solid red. A candidate attacked by name by another candidate will be given 30 seconds to respond. There will be no show of hands or one-word, down-the-line questions. A candidate who consistently interrupts will have his or her time reduced. Questions posed by the moderators will appear on the bottom of the screen for television viewers.

The time allowed for answers and rebuttals is short, but given the large number of participants and the two hour window, they probably couldn’t do much better than that. The real question comes with enforcement of those limits. For the people who just keep jabbering on like a winner at the Oscars who keeps talking after the music starts, will they just cut the microphone? I’m dubious about that at best.

But getting back to the changes I emphasised above, why do you suppose they’re handing this sort of gift to the Democrats? No raising of hands or down the line, yes or no questions? We can probably guess where that came from.

The DNC is still reeling from that horrible screen capture from the first debates when ten candidates all raised their hands in favor of free health care for illegal immigrants. Once they realized that the issue was polling worse than going for a root canal, clearly something had to be done. I’m guessing that the DNC was pushing for that change just to avoid another visual debacle.

But why would CNN agree? While there’s room for some nuance in any given question, there are plenty of policy proposals on the table where either a raised hand or a yes/no answer could inform the public. For example, the moderator could ask who supports shutting down ICE. You either do or you don’t, so there’s no need for ten people to burn a minute each talking about it. The same could be said for an issue like removing marijuana from the list of Schedule 1 drugs at the DEA. Ditto for whether or not they support ending private health insurance.

It seems to me that CNN is helping the Democrats avoid embarassment. Why is there anything inherently bad about asking candidates to raise their hands? Nobody is forcing them to do it. If they don’t support the statement, just keep your hand down. It’s really as simple as that.

Exit question: What are the odds that Tom Steyer somehow qualifes with only 17 days in the race by the time the deadline rolls around? He’s certainly got the name recognition among Democrats to register a couple of percent in some polls, assuming everyone isn’t already burned out on the massive field. But could he get the requisite number of individual donors in that short of a period of time? And if he does miraculously earn a spot on the stage, who will he be bumping out? All I can say is, please, please, please don’t let it be Marianne Williamson.