Photo: Getty

There was precious little gained in the last round of Democratic presidential debates—we got to see Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren dominate, Joe Biden look like a doddering old man, and hear a whole lot of noise from various liberal white guys who sounded a lot like Republicans. So it felt like great news that the Democratic National Committee was tightening up the rules to knock perhaps as many as half the candidates off the stage for the upcoming September debates. Alas, no golden thing can stay.

Candidates must both have 130,000 unique donors and hit two percent in four national polls to qualify for the September debates. But as Politico reported today, the DNC sent a memo to all the campaigns on Monday saying that those targets will stay in place for debates in October—meaning that even if candidates miss the September debates, they have extra time to qualify for debates a month later. This is insane! According to the site:

The DNC memo sets the deadline to reach 130,000 donors and score at 2 percent in four polls at two weeks before the October debate and starts the qualification period on June 28, the same day qualification for the September debate began. Effectively, this means all candidates who qualify for the September debate are automatically in the October debate, unless they drop out of the race. And any candidate who misses the September debate has more time to receive new donations or score 2 percent in the polls.

How much extra time will there be? No date was given for the fourth debate in the memo, but even an early October date would add about three weeks to the qualification period ending in late August.

Extending the September criteria to the October debate instead of setting new parameters could allow struggling candidates who missed the first fall debate to stay in the race for an extra few weeks to try to make it onstage in latter fall debate.

According to Politico’s analysis, just eight 2020 Democrats have qualified for both fall debates so far: Sanders, Warren, Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, and Beto O’Rourke. Julián Castro and Andrew Yang are also on track to qualify, per the site.

So who would this help?

But the October deadline should be welcome news for Gabbard, Steyer, and the rest of the candidates who aren’t close to qualifying. Any progress they bank toward qualifying for the September debate carries over to the October debate.

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Great. What the American public needs most is the chance to hear from such nothing-candidates as Steve Bullock, Michael Bennet, or John Delaney again. If this is really about democracy—and not about ratings or, again, giving second chances to right-wing loser Dems—the DNC will take this back.