This Is No Time to Play Defense

The third Republican presidential nomination debate is coming up in about ten days. It is one of 16 debates the GOP has scheduled, down from 20 last time.

How many Dem debates have been scheduled? Four. Maybe two more. The first one won’t be until October.

The story is that DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz has decided to limit the debates to protect Hillary Clinton. I think this is a mistake for the Dems, and even a mistake for Hillary Clinton. She’s being portrayed as a criminal bitch queen in news media; she needs to get herself out in front of the public as often as possible so that people can see she doesn’t really have horns and a forked tail. She can be a compelling campaigner when she tries; we saw that in 2008.

Meanwhile, most of the public knows nothing about Bernie Sanders except (according to news media) that he’s some kind of crazy radical socialist and/or the left-wing equivalent of Donald Trump. And Matin O’Malley who?

This is no time to play defense. Yes, the Right is stepping all over itself putting on a clown show, but as far as most of the public is concerned the Republicans are the only candidates who actually appear to be running.  I think America needs to see the Dem field, direct and unfiltered, to be reassured they aren’t crazy, too. And they need to see it a lot.

I honestly think the Dem debates will go a long way toward making the Republicans look even crazier and showing America what serious candidates look like, before they forget. And this needs to happen sooner rather than later, so that the Dems don’t find themselves playing catch up in 2016.

How much of the Wasserman Schultz strategy is at Hillary Clinton’s request? I don’t know, of course, but it seems Clinton is playing a defensive strategy rather than trying to take on her rivals directly. We read in the New York Times that she’s trying to build up a “firewall” in the southern states in hopes of locking up the nomination in March.

In interviews, advisers said the campaign was increasingly devoting staff members and money to win the South Carolina primary on Feb. 27 while laying the groundwork to sweep Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia on March 1. Those Super Tuesday states are highlighted in red on maps in the offices of Mrs. Clinton’s senior aides in Brooklyn.

The eight primaries will deliver several hundred delegates for Mrs. Clinton, advisers believe, toward the goal of more than 2,200 needed to clinch the Democratic nomination. The campaign is barraging superdelegates in the South with requests for support — sometimes even jumping the gun by sending pledge forms prematurely — in hopes of adding scores of these party leaders who can bring their votes to the Clinton column at the Democratic National Convention.

The Southern firewall also includes Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and North Carolina, which vote through mid-March. If Mrs. Clinton wins big in the Michigan and Ohio primaries that month, her advisers and supporters believe, the nomination will essentially be hers (though crossing the total delegate threshold takes time).

She’s hoping that minority voters will give her the votes in the South, and maybe they will. But how smart is it to base your nomination strategy on picking up delegates in states you have little hope of winning in the general election?

I agree with David Atkins:

This strategy may or may not be successful in the long run, but it’s terrible politics. Losing support among young progressive activists, white liberals and first-timers to politics, Clinton’s strategy isn’t to aggressively fight to win back the hearts and souls of those voters, but rather to build a firewall around her support among minority voters in the South.

First, there’s no guarantee that strategy will work. Contrary to the claims of some observers, Sanders’ low level of support among minority voters has far more to do with name recognition than with actual policy concerns or inside-the-tent scuffles with Black Lives Matter protesters. Nor is it possible to fully predict what might happen if Joe Biden were to enter the race. If Sanders or Biden do, shockingly, win in Iowa and New Hampshire, that event combined with a series of debates would almost certainly make an impact on minority Southern voters as well.

Second, it would have a crushing effect on Democratic activist enthusiasm. Barack Obama’s support among minority base voters was obviously a net benefit for the Party, but the Obama moment was driven equally much by the passionate activism of young people, liberal activists and political neophytes. If Clinton holds onto a win in spite of opposition from these groups, it will leave her in a weakened state and have depressive effects on Democratic turnout for every race down the ballot.

It would also have a depressive effect on the Democratic Party in the future, I believe. Instead of playing defense, she needs to be trying to win the votes of  young people, liberal activists and political neophytes, or at least some of  ’em, and she’d better hurry up about it.

It might help to sign the petition. Can’t hurt.