The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Morning Plum: Hillary Clinton should push hard for more Democratic debates

Placeholder while article actions load

Politico’s Gabriel Debenedetti reports this morning that pressure is mounting on the Democratic National Committee to allow more than the six debates that the DNC has announced. And that may be creating problems for Hillary Clinton:

It’s spelling trouble for Hillary Clinton, the faltering front-runner who can’t afford to look like she’s being protected by party insiders, say Democrats aligned with both the DNC and 2016 campaigns.

While no Democrat I’m aware of has said this publicly, some very significant Democratic players who are not aligned with Clinton’s rivals have called for more debates or otherwise criticized the DNC position, including Howard Dean (who backs Clinton) and two vice-chairs of the DNC. Clinton has said she is open to additional debates, but her campaign is reportedly not really in favor of actually seeing more:

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.

That squares with what I’ve heard. Yet it’s not clear if this stance will remain sustainable. Clinton has spoken eloquently about the urgent moral need to maximize participation in the political process. She has proposed automatic voter registration and federal matching funds for smaller donors, both of which are designed, in part, to help realize that goal.

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?


* REPUBLICANS WARMING TO TRUMP AS NOMINEE? A new New York Times/CBS News poll finds that 39 percent of Republican voters think Donald Trump would give them their best shot at winning the White House next year. Only 11 percent say that about Jeb Bush. And nearly half of Republicans want someone from the private sector as the nominee.

Follow Greg Sargent's opinionsFollow

As I’ve noted, polling shows that majorities of Republicans see Trump as empathetic, trustworthy, and temperamentally suited to the presidency. Is it possible that Republicans are beginning to see Trump as a plausible nominee?

* DEMS THINK HILLARY HAS THE BEST SHOT: The new Times/CBS poll also finds that 55 percent of Democratic voters think Hillary Clinton has the best shot at winning the White House next year, versus only 21 percent who say that about Joe Biden and 10 percent who say it about Bernie Sanders. If you split Biden’s share between Clinton and Sanders — which is probably generous to Sanders — that means Clinton is seen as more likely to win by 65-31.

Look for the “electability” argument to come to the fore if Sanders starts winning early primaries.

* HILLARY CAMP REASSURES NERVOUS SUPPORTERS: The Post has an interesting look at the behind-the-scenes conversations in which campaign manager Robbie Mook and Hillary advisers are reassuring top supporters who are increasingly nervous about her falling numbers:

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.

Those fundamentals: A big advantage in money; far, far more support from party elites and party actors; perceptions of electability; and a demographically broader coalition that gives Clinton the advantage in the states beyond Iowa and New Hampshire.

* OBAMA TO HIT GOP OVER TAX BREAKS FOR RICH: The New York Times reports that Obama will insert himself into the government shutdown fight by giving a speech today to business executives in which he will challenge Republicans to end tax loopholes that benefit the wealthy, in this case the “carried interest” loophole. Obama will describe this proposal as a potential area of “common ground” to fund increased government investments and economic growth.

The larger context: Trump has vowed to raise capital gains taxes — in contrast with other GOP contenders who would give the wealthy a huge tax break. That has ripped the mask off the GOP “populist” rebrand, something Obama’s speech seems designed to highlight.

* MAJORITY BACKS IRAN DEAL: New Washington Post/ABC News polling finds that Americans support the Iran deal by 51-41. While that is down from a two-to-one margin in March, the drop isn’t surprising, given that it has been the target of a relentless campaign for months that turned the deal into a partisan issue. Indeed, it’s perhaps somewhat surprising that a poll now finds majority support even after such a campaign.

Surely this poll will get as much attention as the polls showing majority opposition did…

* AND SENATE GOP TRIES TO REAP POLITICAL GAIN FROM IRAN VOTE: The Hill reports that Mitch McConnell has hit on an amazingly clever scheme: He will force Democrats to take a tough vote on an amendment to the Iran deal that would block Obama from lifting sanctions “until Iran publicly supports Israel and releases Americans currently held in Iranian prisons.”

It’s unclear what the impact of this will be, since Republicans are not going to pass anything blocking the deal. However, Republicans are certain, absolutely certain, that they will be able to make Democrats pay an enormous political price for supporting the agreement.