A numb and weary nation must now absorb the news that next month’s Democratic presidential debate could actually have more candidates than this month’s debate, which already had too many.
The supposed purpose of staging multiple events was to winnow a long, somewhat whimsical list of contenders down to a short, semi-credible few. The best part of the September debate was that it mercifully took place on one night, with 10 candidates appearing on the same stage.
For voters it seemed like a glimpse of daylight at the end of a long, grinding road. But more darkness looms with the prospect of another two-night spectacle featuring 11 or more candidates — some of whom you thought you’d seen the last of.
Those who’ve made the cut for the Oct. 15 clambake are former Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, businessman Andrew Yang, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, of Texas, billionaire activist Tom Steyer and five sitting U.S. senators —
Cory Booker of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kamala Harris of California, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and the Flo-Max Fulminator himself, Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Two others who still have a chance to grab a podium are Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Marianne Williamson, the self-help author and part-time resident of Mars.
Like many columnists and commentators, I have a terrible track record when predicting who the presidential nominees will not be. I didn’t think Barack Obama had a chance against Hillary Clinton, and I didn’t think Donald Trump had a chance against, well, any Republican with a pulse.
But this year I can state with fearless certainty that the Miami Dolphins have a better chance of winning the Super Bowl than the following candidates do of winning the 2020 Democratic nomination: Klobuchar, Yang, Castro, Steyer, Gabbard and Williamson.
Same goes for Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, and former Reps. Joe Sestak and John Delaney.
Deep down, most of those folks know they can’t win. So do their friends, loved ones and clergy. So does the Democratic National Committee, which wrote the flaky rules for who does and doesn’t make the debates.
To earn a spot on stage, qualifying candidates must prove they’ve got 130,000 individual campaign donors, and 400 of those donors must be in 20 different states.
Where did such strange apportionments come from? Why not make it simpler, like 100,000 donors scattered in all 50 states? That would be just as inexplicable, and much easier to remember.
The other weird requirement for candidates is reaching a 2 percent threshold in four opinion polls. That means you don’t get chosen for the debate unless you’re the top presidential choice of two in every 100 Democratic voters.
That’s a low bar. The dude on “The Bachelor” could do better than that.
By now, after so many months of campaigning, anybody seeking to be in the fourth debate should have at least 5 percent in the polls. As of this writing, that would narrow the field to Biden, Warren, Sanders, Buttigieg, and Harris.
Some people say it’s too early in the campaign to bring the hammer down on zero-chancers such as Williamson (“Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” What?)
Nobody would be more dismayed than her book publisher if she lost the free prime-time publicity of being in the debates. The motives of the other long-shots are less obvious.
A few are undoubtedly using the primaries as a self-branding opportunity, so they can run for the Senate or governor’s mansion back in their home states. Others would be thrilled to get on the Democratic ticket as VP.
Then there are renegade outsiders like Steyer, the former hedge-fund manager who projects a high-energy idealism that might possibly be sincere. Unfortunately, running for president as an idealistic billionaire isn’t a very original idea, and so far the public has yet to be galvanized.
Still, to the chagrin of his rivals, Steyer has squeaked into the October debate.
It’s possible that he’ll make history; that in a few fleeting minutes of air time, Steyer will dazzle and inspire America. That, in theory, is what the debates are supposed to offer — a chance for exciting new voices to be heard.
The reality often falls short. When it comes to a debate, more voices aren’t necessarily better. With the election 14 months away, you’ve got to wonder how long voters will keep tuning in to watch a stage cluttered with 2-percenters.
Meanwhile, if you’re rooting for Trump, you definitely want the country to see as much of Marianne Williamson as possible.