Charap, Joshua E
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PublicationA Historical Analysis of the Democratic Primary Debate Requirements: An Approach for Understanding the Democratic National Committee’s 2020 Rules Change(2020-04-06) Charap, Joshua EIn February 2019, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) created a set of comprehensive rules governing the qualifications for participating in the 2020 primary debates. The rules, the first of their kind, were the result of over a decade of primary debate mishaps and disagreements. Historically, it was not difficult for candidates to qualify for primary debates. There were usually fewer than eight candidates on the stage and the debates did not play a large role in the primary winnowing process. But as the number of candidates rose, and in light of the Republican’s experience in 2016, the Democrats moved to create new rules to re-assert control over the process in 2020. This had three important effects. First, it helped to winnow down the field during the 2020 primary, as once candidates were not on the stage, they were effectively shut out of the media spotlight and thus out of the public’s consideration. Second, the new rules demonstrate an effort by the party to reduce the media’s power and increase their own, though that process is incomplete. Third, these rules illustrate a key dilemma for the DNC in the modern era. They are attempting to assert control without appearing to assert control, thus posing an interesting challenge moving forward.