For months, the Bernie Sanders campaign has been complaining about the lack of debates and their odd placement in low-viewership time slots. But this week, the New Hampshire Union Leader and MSNBC pulled a nice little jiu-jitsu move, inviting the three Dems to an unsanctioned debate next week, just before the #fitn primary.
Martin O’Malley leapt at the chance. The Hillary Clinton camp, rather surprisingly, said she would participate if Bernie Sanders also accepted.
And Bernie said “No.”
I don’t get it. The door was open to a debate in weeknight prime time, at the very peak of interest in the early primaries… and he backed away.
Bernie’s calling for a political revolution. That isn’t the act of a proud revolutionary. It’s the act of a political operative playing the angles.
There have been successive rationales from the Sanders camp. First, it claimed it couldn’t agree to the unsanctioned debate for fear of being barred from future Democratic National Committee-sponsored debates.
Which frankly didn’t pass the smell test. You’re telling me if all three candidates agreed to the New Hampshire event, the DNC would ban all of them? What, they’d have debates with empty stages? C’mon.
Tonight, there’s another story from Jeff Weaver, the Sith Lord of the Sanders campaign. He is now demanding three more debates as the price for Sanders’ participation in the New Hampshire debate. And Weaver’s logic is, well, more than a little bit twisted.
“Sen. Sanders is happy to have more debates but we are not going to schedule them on an ad hoc basis at the whim of the Clinton campaign. If Secretary Clinton wants more debates that’s great. We propose three additional debates. One in March, April and May and none on a Friday, Saturday or holiday weekend. And all of the three Democratic candidates must be invited. If the Clinton campaign will commit to this schedule, we would ask the DNC to arrange a debate in New Hampshire on Feb. 4.”
A few problems with this. First, the NH event was NOT scheduled “at the whim of the Clinton campaign.” It was initiated by two high-profile news organizations. Unless Weaver thinks the notoriously conservative Union Leader is colluding with Hillary Clinton.
Second, why hold the New Hampshire event hostage and threaten its cancellation in hopes of adding more debates? Why not grab the opportunity while it’s in front of you?
Third, the tone of his statement comes across as petulant and whiny, especially after the much more accepting language from his counterparts.
Fourth, why “ask the DNC to arrange” the New Hampshire debate? Accept it straight from the source and put the DNC on the defensive. If the three candidates had acted together, they could have forced the DNC’s hand. In a moment when you could have taken the ball away from the DNC and run with it, you instead simply hand it back.
Fifth, please stop talking like a lawyer. The Sanders campaign is supposed to be a different animal, a break with the tired conventions of politics as usual. This is a purely political move, an attempt to come out looking like the winner even at the cost of losing.
I suppose if the DNC fails to schedule three more debates, Bernie can claim the moral high ground. But the situation will be needlessly muddied. If the New Hampshire event falls through, Bernie will be the guy who said “No.”
A New Hampshire debate would turn the spotlight on the Democratic race at a key moment. It would give Bernie a chance to make his closing argument just before Granite Staters go to the polls. New Hampshire is crucial for his campaign’s chances; if he doesn’t win there, he’ll have a hell of a time in the following contests — in Nevada, South Carolina, and a host of southern states on Super Tuesday. Clinton has a substantial advantage in most of those states. Bernie needs the momentum of a New Hampshire victory.
But he’s willing to gamble the New Hampshire opportunity in a high-stakes power play. Sounds like spite getting the best of principle.