Posted by Eddie Bejarano on September 10, 2015 in Blog

The Republican National Committee (RNC) and Democratic National Committee (DNC) do not see eye to eye on most policy issues, but they both can agree that this summer has not been kind to them. As the RNC & DNC look ahead to the rest of the year, they must address how they handle the presidential debates, which are critical opportunities for voters to learn more about the candidates' positions.

For the RNC, the first party sanctioned debate served as the catalyst for the party’s first summertime woes.  The Fox News’ debate entrance criteria averaged the five most recent polls and based on those findings, the top 10 candidates were featured in a primetime debate while the remainder of the field debated at an earlier timeslot. Prior to the debate, and in its aftermarth, candidates who participated in the earlier debate contended that the RNC completely mishandled the debate’s structure.

In the weeks that followed, candidates revealed that they felt slighted by the RNC’s decision to not have an audience in the arena for the first debate. Also, they felt that the earlier time slot given for their debate was a deliberate attempt to keep viewership low.  Frustration with the RNC’s decisions were epitomized in a statement by one of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s campaign advisers “the decision to have the debate in that big hall without an audience was stupid, but everyone knows that. It was just dumb. It looked silly.”

Another point of tension for the RNC resulted from the numerous bigoted remarks made by the leading GOP presidential candidate, Donald Trump. From xenophobic comments regarding Mexican immigrants to sexist remarks about Fox News journalist Megan Kelly, Trump has consistently made himself a headache for the RNC. While RNC Chairman Reince Priebus publicly stated that Trump’s presence and popularity was welcomed, there is no doubt that each outlandish remark puts the party and its leadership in an unenviable position.   

The summer has not been much kinder to the DNC. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Gov. Martin O’Malley have been very critical of the DNC’s decision to only hold six party sanctioned debates while banning candidates from participating in outside contests. Sen. Sanders called the DNC’s policy “dead wrong” and Gov. O’Malley accused party leaders establishing a “rigged” process designed to Hillary Clinton’s benefit.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC chief, has defended the debate schedule, stating that the current plan in place gives voters plenty of chances to get to know the candidates.  In response to the DNC’s intransigence on expanding the number of debates or allowing candidates to participate in non-party sanctioned events, Gov. O’Malley has urged his supporters to protest outside of the DNC’s headquarters.

The DNC’s decisions, to this point, have caused Gov. O’Malley, and some democratic voters, to charge the party with openly favoring Hillary Clinton for the party’s nomination. The limited number of debates is seen by some as an attempt by the DNC to shield Hillary Clinton from the debate stage at a moment where one of her opponents, Sen. Sanders, has significantly improved his poll numbers. Furthermore, a recently announced joint fund raising agreement between the DNC and Hillary’s campaign only deepens suspicions that the party has chosen its candidate.

Both national committee’s will be happy, perhaps even eager, to leave this summer behind them, but the issues that arose must be dealt with in a strategic manner. The popular campaigns of candidates like Donald Trump and Sen. Sanders highlight the growing disillusionment that many American voters feel towards the country’s two largest political parties. It would be extremely destructive for both party’s to fail to address the concerns that its candidates and constitutes have voiced. Any more mistakes moving forward will not only tarnish the parties’ image, but also will weaken voters’ confidence in their ability to lead during election seasons.