Jonathan Bernstein

Another Democratic presidential candidate has been winnowed: Kirsten Gillibrand on Wednesday joined John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee and Seth Moulton in dropping out after failing to qualify for the September debate.

Naturally, there’s been a great deal of complaining by the candidates who didn’t reach the Democratic National Committee’s new qualification threshold. But the thing is: Fairness to the candidates is the last thing that the DNC, and the Democratic Party more broadly, should worry about.

What does a party want from the nomination process? Well, first, it wants to actually produce a nominee. No one wants a repeat of the 1924 Democratic convention when it took more than 100 ballots to nominate a non-entity because the rules in place at the time gave every substantial faction within the party a veto. It also wants to choose someone who is at least minimally acceptable to the entire party, since otherwise the losing groups may simply walk out. And it wants the process to settle internal arguments over public policy and tie the eventual nominee as closely as possible to the party’s positions and priorities.

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None of these goals requires that each declared major candidate be given an equal chance at the nomination. It may be smart for parties to keep losing candidates happy, and to let voters participate meaningfully at the ballot box or in the caucus room, but those are really not the main considerations. Or at least they shouldn’t be.

So if Democrats were worried about this year’s flood of candidates producing a contested convention, or if they thought that such a large field was making decisions difficult, they had every right to find ways to push out some less likely contenders. The method they chose, limiting debate invitations to those polling well and drawing a minimum number of donors, was basically arbitrary. And the polling threshold introduced a lot of uncertainty – the DNC had no control over how many surveys would be taken, where they’d be taken, or which candidates would be helped or hurt by random errors. But arbitrary or not, this process appears to be getting the job done.

And that’s fine. There’s a good argument that Gillibrand, Hickenlooper and Inslee all would’ve made better nominees than Andrew Yang, who qualified for the debate and likely will hang on until Iowa. But from the party’s perspective, so what? None of them was impressive enough to receive broad support from party actors. And plenty of those who remain are well-qualified candidates who could act as partisan presidents if elected. Which, again, is more important to the party than which candidate it chooses.

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Contact Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net.


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