On Aug. 28, 10 candidates met explicit polling and funding thresholds and qualified for tonight’s Democratic primary debate, the third in our leadup to the 2020 presidential election: Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Yang and former HUD Secretary Julián Castro. As the bar for entry rose, another 10 candidates failed to qualify (although billionaire and activist Tom Steyer qualified for the next debate–slated for Oct. 15-16 – and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is on the cusp of following suit). I’m always hearing that large candidate pools are such a great thing for the electorate, that we’ll be so well-informed on the issues and hear several compelling perspectives that ignite quality discussion. Within other contexts I might concur with this take, but as applied to American politics, I vehemently disagree with it.
For one, it fosters delusions of grandeur among candidates who have no realistic chance to win. I mean, just look at some of these candidates who’re stubbornly staying in the race despite their abysmal prospects! Marianne Williamson–although we enjoy memeing the heck out of her wacky antics, and she appears to be friendly and intelligent–simply has no business lurking around these primaries any longer. Former Rep. John Delaney and Mayor Bill de Blasio? Barf! The rest are too nondescript to warrant my acknowledgement. Even some of the higher-profile candidates are in over their heads. Mayor Pete has the feel of someone who could become president one day, but he’s not quite ready to attract the minority vote. And Beto–man, so much hype around him, yet he’s just so green! I could easily narrow this field to three or four legitimate contenders, so more than anything I’m annoyed that we haven’t seen more merciful concessions yet.
Another significant downside is it opens the door for mudslinging and moral depravity from public figures who seek recognition among a crowded pool. Exhibit A: The clown show that was the 2016 Republican primary debates! All those personal insults, brash interruptions and overall lowbrow remarks created a cesspool that infected the candidates and their constituents. Did the party select a victorious candidate, even after such embarrassment? Miraculously, yes! But it certainly hasn’t felt so gratifying for the country as a whole. To be fair, our current Democrats–although still much more respectable than 2016’s Republicans–have also dabbled in some of this senseless infighting, which only feeds into the idea that American politics are dirty or even an outright joke. And in turn, this may disincentivize constituents from partaking in their democratic duty–as if voter turnout wasn’t criminally low already!
Yet, the greatest consequence of tolerating oversaturation may be that it detracts from attractive candidates with a legitimate chance of attaining the presidency. While we all were enraptured by President Trump’s bluster and its byproducts, former Gov. John Kasich’s rationality and inoffensiveness got lost in the shuffle. And the Bidens, Bernies, Warrens and Kamalas of the world–although they still draw more debate speaking time than their largely irrelevant counterparts–lack sufficient opportunity to outline their explicit policies. If anything, the high-profile candidates often get baited into heated onstage conflict, which the mass media sensationalizes via the extraction of soundbites and visual scenes taken out of context. In this respect, they almost lend credibility to Trump’s desperate cries of “FAKE NEWS!!” corrupting public opinion (don’t fret, I said almost). All this is to say, I fear that unfounded drama may overtake the narrative of otherwise appealing candidates and consequently obstruct their election.
Regarding American politics, I live by the adage that “too many choices can lead to bad decisions.” Ultimately, the benefits of expansive political candidate pools are debatable at best.
Michael Katz is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.