In a speech given to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in Minneapolis in August, former Maryland Governor and Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley attacked the party leadership for designing a “rigged” primary process. O’Malley’s criticism was specifically levied at the small number of debates the DNC announced it would allow, even going so far as to accuse the party of doing little more than facilitating Hillary Clinton’s “coronation.”
From an outsider’s perspective, O’Malley’s point makes a lot of sense. The Democratic presidential field is surprisingly small, especially given that the incumbent is ineligible for reelection, the Republicans have more than a dozen candidates, and the presidency is theoretically wide open. Only five Democratic candidates have declared, and only three (Clinton, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, and O’Malley) are very visible, while the other two (former Secretary of the Navy and Virginia Senator Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Senator and Governor Lincoln Chaffee) are virtually unknown. Clinton was clearly the Democratic frontrunner long before she declared candidacy, and while Sanders has made astonishing gains in the polls, Clinton remains in the lead.
To be fair, the DNC does not bear all of the blame for the few primary debates that will be held. Such a small field in the absence of an incumbent is very rare in recent presidential elections, and therefore less debate time is needed, since there are fewer candidates requiring less airtime to propose their ideas and persuade voters to join their cause. Additionally, the degree to which American society is saturated by media allows voters easy access to the candidates beyond the debates.
Nonetheless, O’Malley is right to oppose the DNC’s moves. Airtime, he argues, is too restricted for the candidates. O’Malley seems to think that it’s a veiled move to keep Clinton out of too much scrutiny and minimize the chance her competitors get to express themselves and attempt to persuade voters. If this is true (doubtful, since O’Malley’s claims seem too exaggerated to be taken seriously), then the Democratic Party has created a very undemocratic primary process.
The fact remains that primary debates are a good thing. Individual candidates simply can’t meet or have personal contact with every potential supporter because there isn’t enough time. Primary debates allow them to reach potential supporters, present their ideas and attempt to establish themselves as the best choice for the nomination. Moreover, debates force candidates to talk to, as opposed to at, each other more than they do during campaign events.
There’s a very easy way to optimize the good that can come from primary debates and that is to have a healthy number of candidates in the process. The Democrats should not have as many candidates as the Republicans do, since with so many, it can be somewhat difficult to differentiate between candidates. However, even one more solid candidate could do some good for the Democratic primary by making it more democratic.
Enter Joseph R. Biden, Jr., Vice President of the United States and six-term senator from Delaware. Biden is no stranger to running for president (he ran in 1988 and 2008), and there’s no doubting that he’s a veteran politician with intimate knowledge of the inner workings of American politics. Sure, he has an embarrassing propensity for gaffes, but his experience is valuable (it’s one of the reasons Barack Obama chose Biden as his running mate in 2008).
Speculation about Biden running has been around for several months. He himself has expressed interest and he has yet to deny he’s running. There have even been some signs recently that he may be preparing to launch a late entry into the race. Regardless of his odds of winning, Biden should run. He’s led a long and prestigious political career and he has very little to lose. In addition, he could very well prove influential and help alleviate some of O’Malley’s criticisms. The bottom line is this: Biden could be a serious candidate, and it seems difficult to find a reason to keep an extra set of ideas and knowledge out of the primary. He may very well not win the Democratic nomination, but the candidate that does will be better off for it.