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Our lily-white debate stage won’t be “representative of the Democratic Party,” you know

Won’t it? When Democrats reconvene for their next re-run of their previous debates in twelve days, their viewers may end up with only six flavors of vanilla on screen. For a party obsessed with identity politics, that’s a rather huge problem.

Yesterday, Joe Biden took a moment out from his No Malarkey tour to lament that the result of polling and contributions from Democratic voters isn’t representative of, er … Democratic voters:

Former Vice President Joe Biden said this month’s 2020 primary debate, which for now is set to host six white candidates, is not representative of the Democratic Party but maintained that “you can’t dictate who is going to be the nominee.”

The comments come as Democrats are searching for answers as their largest and most diverse field of presidential contenders ever has been whittled down to a top tier of white candidates.

“It’s not representative of the party,” Biden told reporters Friday.

“But you can’t dictate who is going to be the nominee, who’s going to be able to garner votes, who’s going to be able to stay in the race.”

Garner votes from whom? Score donors from which electorate?

Let’s parse out this notion that the primary process doesn’t produce a representative look at a party — at least in its intent. The DNC has set triggers for inclusion in debates based on two metrics — media polling and contributor levels. Neither process is perfect, but as long as the DNC (and RNC, for that matter) insists on the crowded-stage debate format, that’s about the only way to limit participation so that there aren’t two dozen people on stage at a time. Media polls are limiting their samples to only those voters who say they will vote in a Democratic primary. Contributor levels are calculated straightforwardly by simply counting all contributors no matter how small the contribution. (Kirsten Gillibrand attempted to game this by begging people to donate only a dollar, without much success as it turned out.)

If that’s the case, then who’s to blame for no persons of color making the cut for the next debate? Hint: It ain’t Republicans.

Both Kamala Harris and now Cory Booker have argued that racism is part of why their campaigns haven’t caught fire. If that’s the case, then it’s Democrats who are the racists, which is a very strange argument to make in a Democratic primary. Biden’s barking up the same tree, only more indirectly and in a lamenting fashion, by claiming that the representative result of the only metrics available for narrowing the debate stage have somehow locked out people of color.

Say, these accusations of racism should be fantastic for Democratic voter enthusiasm in November. Right?

This should be an object lesson in the folly of this current debate format, by the way. Future primaries will be just as crowded as this one when one or both parties don’t have an incumbent running for the presidency. The GOP can afford to laugh about it in this cycle, but they’d better start thinking about 2024 and how they will juggle a couple of dozen credible contenders in a way that doesn’t degrade their credibility and generate complaints of racism, sexism, and who-knows-what-else when they finally start to narrow access to the circus. Better to have an ongoing series of one-on-one debates with random matchups than this disastrous format.