For now, the Clinton campaign remains in favor of keeping the number of debates low, say people familiar with Brooklyn’s thinking, to avoid squandering her advantage as the best-known Democrat in the race — and to limit the opportunities for her rivals to rattle her on television.
This reformist posture, however, risks getting overshadowed — among Democratic voters at a minimum — by the battle over debates, which is getting increasingly acrimonious and public. It is debatable whether Clinton bears any blame for what is happening. Her rivals charge that party leaders are rigging the process in her favor by limiting their public exposure, the implication being that Clinton is tacitly in favor of that. That charge is almost certainly overstated.
But nonetheless, Clinton can do more to resolve this whole mess. She can openly push harder for more debates — maybe, say, two or three more in 2016 — or unequivocally let the DNC know that she wants more of them. She can also indicate that the current debate schedule needs fixing. This stance would work for everybody. It would further cement Clinton’s status as a democratic reformer and an advocate for a more open, more participatory process. It would help energize grassroots Democrats who (we are told) are insufficiently enthusiastic about her candidacy. It would allow the DNC a way out of its jam.
I’ve already spelled out the case that many Democrats are making in favor of the idea that more debates would help the Democratic Party overall in 2016. It’s also perfectly plausible that Clinton’s own candidacy would benefit directly from more debates, as Jamelle Bouie has argued persuasively, because it would refocus the political world’s attention on the actual policy arguments underway between the Democratic candidates. At a time when the press remains consumed with the Hillary email story, she might actually benefit from more media attention to her debating the issues with her rivals, particularly when that is contrasted with the Trump carnival we’ll be seeing early next year.
Finally, if Clinton helps push the DNC into agreeing to more debates, it would also avert one scenario Clinton probably wouldn’t relish. Picture Bernie Sanders winning Iowa or New Hampshire, or both, and then using his enhanced credibility as a candidate to call for more debates in early 2016 before and during March, when a whole lot of primaries may settle the nomination. How would it look at that point if party leaders are still bringing down the hammer on the idea?
Top campaign aides have told nervous supporters in recent days that none of the bad news is an argument to veer from the plan or lose heart. Mook does some of the hand-holding himself, telling donors that as the 2016 race gels this fall and winter, the “fundamentals” he has set in place will be a bedrock no other candidate on either side of the race can match….The idea is that when the dust settles…Clinton will stand as the best-qualified and most electable candidate. The person, in the words of one Clinton adviser, who looks like the grown-up.