Indiana Daily Student

OPINION: The DNC made a mistake changing the debate requirements

<p>Democratic candidate for president Mike Bloomberg visits Tampa, Florida, for a campaign rally on Jan. 26.</p>

Democratic candidate for president Mike Bloomberg visits Tampa, Florida, for a campaign rally on Jan. 26.

The Democratic National Committee announced Friday that candidates will not need a set number of donations to qualify for the upcoming Nevada debate. The rule change came less than a month before the next debate, scheduled for Feb. 19 in Las Vegas. 

The DNC refused to reduce the debate requirements for the January debate when asked by Sen. Cory Booker, who had the support of the rest of the presidential field. However, the DNC's newly changed requirements give former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg a shot at being on the debate stage. 

The new debate requirements may not have been put into place with the intention of excluding candidates of color and including a billionaire, but that’s exactly what happened. 

It looks incredibly bad for the DNC to change the debate rules now when the rules weren’t changed to ensure a diverse stage.

DNC Chairman Tom Perez told the New York Times the debate qualification process relies on polls and donations to be as transparent and objective as possible. To qualify for the Nevada debate, a candidate needs to earn 10 percent in four qualifying national polls or 12 percent in two polls taken in Nevada or South Carolina by a qualifying pollster, or the candidate could earn a single delegate from either Iowa or New Hampshire.

The previous requirement of meeting a minimum donor threshold has been dropped. The DNC argued that the delegates from the caucus and primary will be better measures of grassroots support, so a donor requirement is no longer necessary. 

That seems fair, but the problem is, none of the systems that contribute to these metrics are fair. Money shouldn’t affect politics, but it does. 

The grassroots donor requirement put strain on many campaigns early on in the race. These campaigns did not have the financial support to wait it out until debate requirements were changed and eventually they dropped out of the race.

Booker sent a letter to Perez in December asking him to lower the thresholds for the January and February debates. Presidential candidates Sen. Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Tom Steyer, former Housing secretary Julián Castro and Andrew Yang all signed the letter, according to the New York Times

The requirements for the January debate did not change, and Booker, Castro and Yang were excluded from the all-white debate stage. Booker and Castro have both since suspended their campaigns. 

When many of the candidates being prematurely pushed out of the race are people of color, the DNC should be concerned about the fairness of the process. Narrowing the debate stage earlier in the process will push out smaller campaigns, while campaigns with more financial resources remain unaffected. 

Bloomberg has run an entirely self-funded campaign. Because of his refusal to accept donations, he has not qualified for a single debate. 

The removal of the donor threshold gives him the opportunity to qualify for the Nevada debate. He still needs to either win delegates or meet the polling requirements, which only Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden have doneas of Jan. 31, according to the New York Times.

While other candidates need the national platform that a debate provides as a way to connect with voters, billionaires like Bloomberg can buy their outreach. He has spent millions of dollars on ads, including at least $10 million on a single minute-long television ad that aired yesterday during the Super Bowl, according to Politico

There is one benefit of letting Bloomberg join the debates. During an ad, Bloomberg can’t be grilled about his record as a Republican mayor, like he could be on the debate stage. Debating wouldn’t even be in Bloomberg’s best interests because it would give the moderators and other candidates an opportunity to properly vet him.

Even if debating would hurt him, if Bloomberg is ultimately able to qualify, this decision has been met with negative reactions, with several presidential candidates rightly denouncing the decisionfor Bloomberg to be included. Andrew Yang called the new rules "tailor-made" for Bloomberg.

The DNC might not be rigging the election for Bloomberg, but they should be conscious of who is affected by their debate requirements and how the timing of rule changes can disproportionately hurt certain campaigns. 

Billionaires have enough advantages. The DNC shouldn’t give Bloomberg one more.

Allyson McBride (she/her) is a sophomore studying English and political science. She is the director of outreach and diversity for College Democrats at IU.

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