It took Marianne Williamson wading into bizarre references about New Zealand, the moon and the power of love for me to realize something: The GOP made the right decision in their own overpopulated primary on the road to 2016. Not in whom they chose, of course, but in how they chose. The past two nights of Democratic debates have offered insightful policy discussions, fierce sniping and funny mic gaffes. But they’ve also only made one thing clear: It’s time to separate the contenders from the pretenders; it’s time for the real candidates to share the stage, and for everyone else to be relegated to the kids’ table.
In the windup to the 2016 election, the Republican Party found itself in a boat similar to the one occupied by Democrats today: too many candidates, and not all made of equal merit. So what did the cold-hearted capitalists do? An incredibly on-brand exercise of social Darwinism by kicking the sideshows off the big stage and holding an undercard debate for low-wattage runners. The Democrats should take note, and do the same.
Instead, in an equally on-brand desire for fairness and equal shine, the Democratic National Committee established light qualifying rules and divided their 20-person debate into two separate nights via random draw. The result backfired, and the straws broke so four of the five heavy-hitters — former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg — landed on the same night, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) got stuck with mostly third-tier talents. Indeed, the wonkish progressive loomed over her stage peers like the mid-20s eldest cousin who still can’t escape the Thanksgiving kids table full of obnoxious middle schoolers.
Have Warren join Harris, Biden and the rest, who just completed a rousing debate that tackled both policy and values with the gravitas a presidential race actually deserves. Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) earned a place with the adults, too, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) can offer a Biden alternative for the moderates. As for Beto O’Rourke? Well, he can remain with the kiddies like the moody, brooding teenager who just discovered his uncle’s old grunge records.
If Democrats agree that this election is every bit as existentially important as they all claim, then a format change must be made to the next round of debates. Running for president is serious business. It’s time we limit the stage to serious candidates.
Brian Boyle is The Times’ editorial page intern.