The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is changing its debate format to limit the rigorous standing required by candidates, at a time when there is renewed scrutiny over former Vice President Joe Biden’s fitness for the White House.
The DNC announced on Friday that the format for its next debate, to be held in Arizona on March 15, would have the candidates seated behind a desk, fielding questions from the audience. The format change, which was first reported by Politico, would be a departure from the past ten debates, where candidates stood behind lecterns and faced questions from moderators.
“After ten debates, the DNC worked with its network partners to adapt the March debate to the smaller field of candidates and to give voters more of a voice,” a DNC spokeswoman said in announcing the new format.
The change occurs as the Democrat field has winnowed, leaving Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) as the only two viable candidates for the nomination. That process, which saw establishment Democrats consolidate behind the former vice president ahead of Super Tuesday, has left many Sanders supporters feeling as though the primary is being manipulated to thwart their candidate. Sanders, himself, granted credence to such thinking during a weekend appearance on ABC’s This Week.
Sanders said, while discussing machinations that led to Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Pete Buttigieg to dropping out and backing the former vice president:
What was very clear from the media narrative and what the establishment wanted was to make sure that people coalesced around Biden and defeat me. We’re taking on the establishment… the corporate establishment … the political establishment.
Given such feelings, it is no surprise that many on the left believe the DNC’s debate format change is meant to benefit Biden—a claim the former vice president’s team denies. The sentiment was best summed up by Glenn Greenwald, who took to social media shortly after the new format was announced to lambast what he saw as a transparent effort by the DNC to “protect” the former vice president.
“What is Biden going to do if he’s the nominee and he doesn’t have the rotted DNC to protect him by corruptly changing the rules that let him basically lounge around in a bed taking questions from nice people instead of having to stand on his feet and directly debate,” Greenwald wrote.
What is Biden going to do if he’s the nominee and he doesn’t have the rotted DNC to protect him by corruptly changing the rules that let him basically lounge around in a bed taking questions from nice people instead of having to stand on his feet and directly debate? https://t.co/W8Elnn98eO
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) March 8, 2020
Others were just as cutting in their criticism of the DNC’s decision.
The DNC changed the debate rules not only to exclude Tulsi but to let the candidates sit down. And now the audience will ask questions instead of moderators. I have zero doubt that questions will be planted. It's so obvious that they're trying to protect Joe.
— Secular Talk (@KyleKulinski) March 8, 2020
DNC has suddenly changed its debate rules AGAIN: Bernie & Biden will sit & take questions from audience, rather than stand for a moderated debate. In short: it's not a debate. This will only fuel concerns about Biden's cognitive decline & his ability to debate Trump this fall. https://t.co/wqexNADB6d
— Dr. Jill Stein🌻 (@DrJillStein) March 9, 2020
Adding to suspicions about the DNC’s motives is that the format change comes as Biden faces renewed scrutiny about his fitness to be commander in chief. Although the 77-year-old former vice president has long been known for his gaffes and lapses, many Democrats now worry that such instances will only fuel speculation about his cognitive health—potentially damaging his chances in the general election. This was exhibited last week, most notably when Biden bungled a quote from the Declaration of Independence during a campaign swing through Texas.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, all men and women are created by, go, you know, you know the thing,” the former vice president said, visibly struggling to remember the famous line.
That moment was quickly eclipsed by the former vice president urging voters to show up and support his campaign on “Super Thursday.” The back-to-back verbal missteps, followed up by Biden confusing his wife and sister during a speech in California, led even some senior Democrats to confess the former vice president’s cognitive health was an issue.
“He is a candidate that is mentally deteriorating. People in the Democratic establishment say, ‘Oh don’t say that.’ They really believe that they can shield Joe Biden from public scrutiny and the reality is, they can’t,” Justin Horwtiz, a Democratic strategist and Sanders supporter, admitted during an appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight.