(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Democrats got a look at their likely presidential nominee this week. They just had to peer hard through the crowd on a Miami debate stage to see him or her.
Those voters seeking an alternative to a chaos presidency should be pleased. The quality of candidates is high. There were no food fights or schoolyard attacks; discussion was mostly substantive. Many on stage showed the capacity to deliver a cohesive and detailed message in a compact time frame.
Foreign policy got short shrift, as it usually does. But there were worthwhile discussions on immigration, gun regulation, health insurance and tackling inequality.
When some minor fireworks did erupt on the first night, it was former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, who served as mayor of San Antonio, chastising former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke for having done insufficient “homework” on immigration.
The second night saw a sharp exchange between former Vice President Joe Biden and California Senator Kamala Harris about Biden’s record, and the federal government’s responsibility, in addressing racial discrimination.
Yet, while the results were generally good under the circumstances, the circumstances could be improved. The discussion each night ping-ponged among 10 candidates and five moderators; it’s tempting to conclude that the party of inclusion has grown a tad too inclusive. (Author Marianne Williamson seemed more than a little out of place.) And, even so, several candidates still failed to make the cut, which was determined by narrow polling and somewhat broader fundraising criteria.
The bar will get higher by the third debate, scheduled for September, which should shrink the field. But is a single point in horse-race polls really a good way to distinguish candidates? No.
For those invited to debate, time was short. The format allowed one-minute answers and 30-second rebuttals (about enough time to say, “Your mother wears Army boo—”). On occasion, a moderator would invite a candidate to expound on some national emergency or another for … 10 seconds.
It would be better to break the debates into smaller discussion groups — five candidates sounds about right — and reduce the number of topics covered per night. Fewer people talking about fewer issues would allow candidates to put some flesh on the bones of their policies and expose differences between otherwise like-minded politicians.
More broadly, both parties need to overhaul the increasingly cumbersome means of selecting their nominees. That, however, is a topic for a later debate. For now, Democrats will have to use an unwieldy process to winnow an overstocked roster. The good news is they don’t lack for good choices.
—Editors: Frank Wilkinson, Nisid Hajari.
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