What if they gave a debate and no one watched? That almost happened Saturday night with the Democratic debate in New Hampshire. Only 6.1 million people watched compared to the 18.1 million who watched the Republican debate earlier in the week. This is exactly what the Democratic National chair wanted—a debate nobody watched. That is why she scheduled it on the Saturday before Christmas where it competed with the rollout of Star Wars and NFL football.
To put his in perspective, the first Democratic debate, held on a Tuesday night, had 15.1 million viewers. The second debate, also held on a Saturday night, drew only 8.5 million and Saturday’s debate at its peak had only 6 million. All the Republican debates have been held on week nights and they have never fallen below 18 million viewers. So why did the DNC schedule two of the three debates on a Saturday night?
It is no secret that Rep. Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL), chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), is a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton, the presumed Democratic nominee. Schultz and the DNC were delighted with the primary battle on the GOP side. They hoped that Hillary Clinton could begin her campaign for the general election while the Republicans fought each other. Then along came Bernie Sanders.
Party rules are clear in stipulating that the DNC must be totally neutral in all primaries, especially the presidential race. While Wassermann-Schultz repeatedly proclaims her neutrality, few believe her. Actions speak louder than words. Critics, including some on the DNC, have accused the chair of favoritism. The scheduling of the debates is Exhibit A. Many believe that her goal was to protect Clinton by denying her Democratic opponents an opportunity to challenge her record and positions. Sanders leads among millennials and they are not watching TV on a Saturday night.
The belief that the DNC was putting its thumb on the scale got worse when Wasserman-Schultz abruptly shut off the Sanders campaign access to its voter data forcing Sanders to sue. At the beginning of the debate, Bernie Sanders apologized for the action of his staffer and said if there is evidence anyone else was involved, they would be fired as well. Cameras focused on the DNC chair while Sanders spoke and her body language indicated she felt vindicated. However, among Sanders supporters and others, the facts cast more doubt on her motives.
Senator Sanders explained that a few weeks earlier, the DNC’s vendor made the Clinton campaign’s information visible to the Sanders campaign. Immediately, the senator said, they quietly contacted the DNC and advised them of the “inadvertent” problem and it was fixed. In that case, Sanders said, his campaign did the right thing by not looking at it. “The second time, one staffer did the wrong thing,” Sanders said, and “he was fired.”
The first event was handled quietly. The second “inadvertent” incident was immediately blasted in the press by the DNC and the Clinton campaign. Wasserman-Schultz did not mention that this had happened before and it was the Sanders campaign that reported it. The fact that the so-called inadvertent incident occurred a second time raises serious questions about whether it was entrapment. Was Schultz trying to find a reason to embarrass Sanders in New Hampshire which is the only state in which he tops Clinton in the polls?
Senator Sanders took the high road and immediately took action and apologized. No apology has been tendered by Hillary Clinton, the DNC, or Wasserman-Schultz for their immediate over-reaction and failure to mention the earlier incident. This only convinces Sanders supporters that the DNC is rigging the race for Clinton. By her silence, Clinton only reinforces that belief.
If the DNC and the Clinton campaign were as smart as they want people to believe, they would realize that the way a candidate conducts themselves in the primary can seal their fate in the general election. Mitt Romney is a case in point. Clinton leads Trump in the polls now, but she does not do as well against Rubio and other less extreme Republicans. Sanders tops them all. In key swing states, it only takes a small number of angry Sanders supporters to stay home to tilt the election away from Clinton. Wasserman-Schultz and the Clinton campaign may be celebrating now, but Republicans are beside themselves with joy.