Brow Beat

Rachel Maddow Wants a “Knock-Down, Drag-Out” Fight at the Democratic Debates

Weary of the pantomime and pablum usually passed off as debate, Rachel Maddow wants 2020 candidates to take off the kid gloves. Maddow sat down with Seth Meyers on Tuesday to talk about her role as a moderator for the first round of Democratic primary debates airing June 26 and 27 on NBC.

Maddow told Meyers about the challenge of prepping for a Democratic debate under a cloud of uncertainty surrounding who will actually be there and when. The Democratic National Committee has said that it will be limiting the debates to 20 participants but it remains unclear exactly which of the 23 current candidates they will exclude or how they’ll come to that decision. In any case, Rachel Maddow is over it. Appearing just as jaded about the process as the rest of us, Maddow told Meyers that she’s ready to see some candidates stop overthinking things and start throwing punches. “Whatever happens,” she said, “all hell is gonna break loose.”

Maddow seems to be operating under the assumption that the best way to find out which Democratic candidate should take on Donald Trump in 2020 is “to see them battle it out within an inch of their lives” because running against Trump will be like “running against a blender.” As Maddow explains, “the Democratic primary should be a hard fought, knock-down, drag-out contest because you want whoever gets to the general to be tough.

While watching a room of 20 jumpy nominees trading their best barbs for two hours sounds like fine television, it hardly qualifies as a real “debate.” More tantalizing would be a format that encouraged moderators to pose complex questions and hold candidates accountable for the answers. Better yet would be a format that allowed candidates the time to articulate answers and maybe even debate one another.

When even the moderator has given up hope of extracting anything from a political debate beyond a demonstration of “toughness,” it begs the question why the DNC hasn’t canned the whole format in favor of something actually violent. After all, who wouldn’t vote for Elizabeth Warren after watching her explain her universal childcare proposal while holding Joe Biden in an inverted figure-four leglock?