Newly Announced Democratic Quasi-Debate Feeds ‘Hillary in Crisis’ Narrative

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Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate In Charleston, South Carolina
A town-hall event — technically not a debate — in Iowa has the conspiracy theorists buzzing about last-minute help for HRC.Photo: Andrew Burton/2016 Getty Images

On Tuesday, CNN announced it was televising a "town-hall forum" at Drake University in Des Moines on Monday, January 25, sponsored by the Iowa Democratic Party. This was reportedly the culmination of a discussion between the cable network and the IDP that began in November. But already we’re hearing claims (mostly from conservative media, but Sanders-loving progressive gabbers are sure to join in) that this is a panic-stricken DNC ploy to save a "floundering" Clinton campaign. Behold this take from RedState’s Moe Lane:

[T]he important thing here is that this is a last-minute change to the mechanism. And, like most last-minute changes of this type, it reeks of nervous terror and failure. The Democratic party Establishment does not want to run a white, old, socialist-loving ideologue… but they want to run Bernie Sanders even less, so they need to prop up Hillary Clinton somehow, it seems. And this would be ‘somehow.’

Technically, this is not a “debate,” and thus the DNC is not in a position to sanction or veto it. But it is very difficult to prove a negative, especially if you are DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who has been roundly accused of limiting debates and insisting on low-viewership times for them in order to protect Hillary Clinton’s front-running status. And the timing of this announcement, during a week when Hillary-disparagers everywhere are celebrating a Sanders surge in selected polls, is sure to touch off the baying of many hounds. 

The event itself (which will be compared and contrasted to the Republican debate in Iowa being held three days later) is in danger of being overshadowed by arguments over its purpose. The idea that it’s intended to “save” Clinton in the state makes little sense; the most reliable recent poll, from the Des Moines Register/Bloomberg, has HRC holding a narrow lead, and the results will likely turn on caucus-night organizing efforts rather than some vague “momentum.” For that matter, the town-hall format will give Sanders as much of an opportunity as Clinton to sway last-minute deciders, and he seems to be improving as a debater. And Iowans themselves will be puzzled by any suggestion of chicanery in offering them another comparative look at the candidates: At this time in the cycle, it’s just their due!