When too many horses break from the starting gate in a big race, they tend to get in one another’s way en route to the finish line. Americans who want to see a Democrat replace Donald Trump as the nation’s president in 2020 are sizing up more than 20 candidates at this counting.
Makes one wonder what the debates will look like. Televised debates among candidates for office presumably display for us voters the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates to help us choose whom we will support and vote for. Let’s imagine how such debates for more than 20 candidates for president will work.
Not a pretty picture, and it is complicated.
Someone is already hard at work on this, of course. As early as last December, just before Christmas, the Democratic National Committee announced a plan to stage 12 such debates, starting this June. If necessary, depending on the number of candidates who qualify, the DNC might split the first two debates in June and July into consecutive nights, according to Tom Perez, DNC chairman.
As reported in USAToday, Perez explained that changes in the debate process are designed to make the process fair, transparent and inclusive. This means that the Democratic party won’t focus exclusively on polling to determine which candidates will participate in the first two debates. Evidence of support, including grassroots fundraising, will also be considered when determining eligibility.
Rarely in our nation’s history have Americans felt as strongly about this next presidential election. So much is at stake. How will we citizens choose our candidate? Will watching debates help us? The debates do offer us snapshots, glimpses into a candidate’s poise and credibility, how well he or she responds to a tough question. That’s about all we can expect to learn from this brief exposure. Of course, the other party is watching, too, making notes. The debates offer them plenty of ammunition.
Pre-election debates can do as much harm as good, I believe, and I have an alternative suggestion. Why instead don’t we offer every candidate a public forum in the form of a town meeting at which ordinary citizens get to ask questions directly, watch and listen to the candidates’ responses. It should be possible for a small number of candidates, say three or four, to conduct such a forum in the same evening.
It is feasible? Certainly, and I would watch every one of them with great interest. As we struggle to get a true and complete picture of those who would be president, let’s make the process as fair, transparent and inclusive as we can, as Tom Perez suggests.
That gets my vote.