News Release

Party Bosses Rigging Debate Process

images-1

The next Democratic Party debate is Thursday night. The next Republican Party debate is Saturday night. See accuracy.org/calendar for upcoming events.

GEORGE FARAH, gfarah@opendebates.org
Farah is executive director of Open Debates and author of the book No Debate: How the Republican and Democratic Parties Secretly Control the Presidential Debates.

He said today: “During this election, the Republican and Democratic parties have asserted unprecedented control over the primary debates, and the results have been disastrous. Historically, the major parties exercised limited influence over primary debates. Dozens of media entities and civic groups organically emerged every four years to host primary debates featuring a range of innovative formats. In 2008, for example, there were 25 Democratic primary debates and 21 Republican primary debates. …

“Yet, rather than celebrate the profusion of primary debates, the major parties have denounced them. In February 2015, Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican Party, said, ‘I don’t think having our candidates running around in a traveling circus and doing 23 debates, slicing and dicing each other is in the best interests of our party.’

“Indeed, the major parties are uninterested in maximizing voter education. Instead, they want to crown a ‘viable’ nominee as swiftly as possible and shield that candidate from bruising attacks by intra-party rivals. …

“To accomplish their goals, the major parties took exceptional steps to assert control over the primary debates for the 2016 election. Both parties adopted the same radical, anti-democratic policy: if a candidate participates in a debate that is not sanctioned by the party, that candidate will be summarily excluded from the debates approved by the party. This was the first time in the history of televised presidential debates that a major party has threatened to punish a candidate for participating in a debate. …

“The Republican Party only scheduled a paltry twelve primary debates for a record-breaking 17 candidates. The party could not simultaneously include all 17 candidates in a debate. The party should have rotated them through an initial round of debates. This would have provided each candidate with an opportunity to introduce themselves to voters, before polls were used to winnow the field in later debates. Instead, beginning with the very first debate, the party established a two-tiered debating system, whereby front-runners were featured in primetime debates and those polling at the bottom were prematurely relegated to undercard debates.  As result, several candidates were permanently consigned to undercard debates, which effectively extinguished their candidacies before they started …

“The Democratic Party has behaved even worse. Initially, the party only authorized six primary debates for the 2016 election and scheduled three of those debates on weekends, when viewership declines. The head of the Democratic Party, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, previously served as co-chair of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2008. This election cycle, she has sought to coronate Clinton with minimal opposition to her candidacy by limiting debate viewership. …

“Now that Clinton is unexpectedly facing a vibrant challenge from Bernie Sanders, she needs more primary debates to make her case to voters. On cue, the Democratic Party — which so strenuously rejected pleas for more debates from Sanders and Martin O’Malley last year — has scheduled four more debates.

“Such blatant favoritism is shameful. …

“It is particularly important that primary debates are abundant and inclusive considering that the major parties have rendered the general election debates so limiting and exclusionary.  General election debates are sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a private corporation that was jointly created by the Republican and Democratic parties in 1987. Every four years, the Commission excludes third-party and independent candidates and allows the major party nominees to excessively shape the debate formats.”

The group RootsAction has set up a petition: “Remove Debbie Wasserman Schultz as DNC Chair“: “Wasserman Schultz has tried in other ways to minimize competition for her candidate, Hillary Clinton. She has done this by scheduling very few primary debates, and scheduling them at times of low TV viewing. In Congress, she has served as a pro-militarist and corporatist tool of the high bidders.”