John Heilemann Blasts Dem. Official's 'Strawman Argument' for Limited Number of Debates

During an interview with former White House Communications Director Anita Dunn, John Heilemann called out the Obama official for using a “strawman argument” to defend the Democratic Committee’s decision to only have 6 presidential debates. 

The With All Due Respect host challenged Dunn over her assertion that the hypothetical number of debates would be either 6 or 25 and wondered why Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz couldn’t simply raise the number to 10 as some of Hillary Clinton’s challengers would prefer. 

Heilemann began the back and forth over the Democratic Party’s limited debate schedule by highlighting how Schultz was actually “heckled by a crowd of Democrats. There should be more debates, according to many Democrats” before he wondered if Dunn, who works with the DNC, supported the chairwoman’s position. 

Dunn pushed the company line that “[y]ou actually don't need that many debates” which Heilemann flatly rejected and pointed out that President Obama benefited from the 25 debates he had with Hillary Clinton in 2008:

Senator Obama got better as the debate schedule got deeper into the debate schedule, number one, and number two, that as many of your colleagues told us many times, that long stretch of debates was grueling, it prepared him well for the general election debates he had with John McCain. 

After Dunn rejected Heilemann’s belief that Obama was strengthened by having more debates he engaged in a lively debate with his guest over the issue:

HEILEMANN: Just to be clear, you think six is enough? It should be no more. Six is enough. I think no one is advocating 25, by the way. 

DUNN: But where do you draw the line, John? Where do you draw the line, okay?

HEILEMANN: I’m not sure but again it does seem to me that just to place this cap on it in this way and say well that the choice is either 6 or 25, that seems like kind of a strawman argument. 25 sounds ridiculous, right? Why not 10?

Despite Heilemann’s attempt to get Ms. Dunn to acknowledge that the DNC had more options than to have just 6 or 25 debates, the Democratic operative refused to concede the point and actually suggested the party may reduce its debate schedule even further if the primary process proves uncompetitive: 

Maybe the party at the end of the day decides if the process is moving along and keeps going on that they should add debates for some of the later states...There could end up being fewer debates if the process ends early, if somebody just sweeps. But I think that 6 is a good number right now. There are plenty of other opportunities people have. And at the end of the day candidates need to take advantage of every opportunity.

See relevant transcript below. 

Bloomberg’s With All Due Respect

September 23, 2015

JOHN HEILEMANN: Up in New Hampshire, I believe, this weekend, the chairwoman of your party, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, was heckled by a crowd of Democrats. There should be more debates, according to many Democrats. The chairwoman has been adamant that there will not be more than the six currently sanctioned DNC debates. Do you think she should relent and either sanction more debates or remove the penalties from unsanctioned debates? 

ANITA DUNN:: Well in full disclosure, I work with the DNC. But I will also say that anybody who worked for Barack Obama in 2008 is not going to sit here and say, oh, you really need 25 debates. You actually don't need that many debates, and there are plenty of opportunities for candidates to go out there and to talk to voters, and one of the reasons we have small states at the beginning of this process so the candidates can do personal campaigning not through television. 

HEILEMANN: You’d agree though that Senator Obama got better as the debate schedule got deeper into the debate schedule, number one, and number two, that as many of your colleagues told us many times, that long stretch of debates was grueling, it prepared him well for the general election debates he had with John McCain. 

DUNN: I actually would think there is little revisionist history maybe going on with a few of my colleagues. I don't think that the primary debates really did prepare him all that well for the general election debates. It wasn't until later that they became one-on-one debates, for example. 

HEILEMANN: Just to be clear, you think six is enough? It should be no more. Six is enough. I think no one is advocating 25, by the way. 

DUNN: But where do you draw the line, John? Where do you draw the line, okay?

HEILEMANN: I’m not sure but again it does seem to me that just to place this cap on it in this way and say well that the choice is either 6 or 25, that seems like kind of a strawman argument. 25 sounds ridiculous, right? Why not 10?

DUNN: Okay, John so why not ten? Maybe the party at the end of the day decides if the process is moving along and keeps going on that they should add debates for some of the later states. I guess I would say to you, why should 2 states get two or three debates apiece and 48 states get none? Or if 46 states get-Once you start going down to it, listen there may end up being more debates because the process could stretch out to June, as it did in 2008. There could end up being fewer debates if the process ends early, if somebody just sweeps. But I think that 6 is a good number right now. There are plenty of other opportunities people have. And at the end of the day candidates need to take advantage of every opportunity.

NBDaily Campaigns & Elections 2016 Presidential Debates Bloomberg TV With All Due Respect Democratic National Committee John Heilemann Anita Dunn

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