Democrats who weren’t happy about the Democratic National Committee’s debate schedule stepped up their criticism after it was revealed that Saturday evening’s debate drew a paltry 8.55 million viewers, making it by far the least watched debate of the 2016 campaign cycle.
One of the first to criticize the DNC was Martin O’Malley’s deputy campaign manager Lis Smith, who, in an interview with Politico, criticized DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz for her handling of the debate schedule.
“We can’t fool ourselves — the Republicans are eating our lunch in terms of attention and viewership because of the unprecedented, unilateral, and arbitrary way the DNC Chair determined this schedule,” said Smith, adding, “It’s clear we need to open up the process, have more debates, and engage more voters in this process.”
It’s hard to get more voters involved, though, since Wasserman Schultz has limited the debates to six—compared to 12 for the Republicans. And like Saturday’s debate, the next two debates are the Saturday before Christmas and the Sunday before the Martin Luther King holiday—times that virtually guarantee a minuscule audience.
The scheduling has opened Wasserman Schultz up to charges that she is protecting front-runner Hillary Clinton. While she has denied those charges in the past, Saturday’s debate was a prime example of why she would try to protect Clinton, who stumbled on several questions, including her 1960s campus activism and donations from Wall Street.
It wasn’t just O’Malley’s campaign that thought that the DNC has erred in their debate schedule—a Democratic operative told Politico that “there was a clear intent to bury these debates to the benefit of Clinton,” and that it was a disservice to the Democratic Party since the GOP is posting large numbers for their debates.
Not surprisingly, Clinton has remained largely silent on the issue, saying that she would participate in whatever debates the DNC sanctions, though she clearly prefers the current schedule since it protects her from embarrassing herself too much and damaging her presidential ambitions.