The invisible dem debates The Republican presidential candidates have demonstrated such an appetite for debates that if I set up nine lecterns in my living room on a weeknight around 8 p.m. and chanted “carpet bomb” and “anchor baby,” they’d probably materialize en masse, even before I had time to vacuum and put out the artichoke dip. But I could send save-the-date cards, promise canapés by Mario Batali and recruit Adele to belt out “Hello” whenever the doorbell rang: Still the Democrats wouldn’t show up. What a shamefully imbalanced primary season this has been. For all their flaws and fakery, the Republican candidates have squared off frequently, at convenient hours and despite the menacing nimbus of Donald Trump’s hair; the Democratic candidates have, in contrast, hidden in a closet. Tuesday night’s meeting of Republicans, who sparred in Las Vegas over how to keep America safe, was the fifth. The meeting of Democratic presidential candidates in a few days will be only the third. And who’s going to watch it? It’s on a Saturday night, when a political debate ranks somewhere between dialysis and a Milli Vanilli tribute concert as a desirable way to unwind. The last meeting of the Democratic candidates was also on a Saturday night, and fewer than nine million viewers tuned in, down from 15.3 million for the sole Democratic debate so far on a weeknight. All of the Republican debates have been on weeknights; the first two attracted more than 23 million viewers each. In fact none of the first four Republican debates had an audience of less than 13.5 million. The fifth debate had an estimated audience of 18 million. The Republican events certainly have seductions that the Democratic ones don’t. There are many more brawlers onstage, fanning out in a motley conga line. There’s Trump. He could say anything, degrade anyone, spontaneously combust. And while Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley will again try to put Hillary Clinton on the defensive when the three appear together at St. Anselm College in Goffstown, N.H., this weekend, their efforts won’t carry the reality-show fascination of Trump’s Republican adversaries trying to erase—trying to understand—his surreal lead. But the disparity in viewership is also a function of scheduling, and was thus predictable and obviously intended. When the Democratic debates were set up, party leaders assumed that Hillary Clinton would be their best candidate, put their chips on her and sought to make sure that some upstart didn’t upset their plans or complicate things to a point where Clinton would stagger into the general election all banged up. Bernie Sanders complained. Martin O’Malley cried foul. So did one of the vice chairwomen of the Democratic National Committee, Tulsi Gabbard, who made a lot of public noise about the paucity of debates and the unwillingness of the head of the D.N.C., Debbie Wasserman Schultz, to abide such dissent. It was an ugly sideshow for a few days, then it blew over. But we shouldn’t be so quick to forgive and forget how the Democratic Party has behaved. It prides itself on being the true champion of democracy, more vigilant than the Republican Party about the disenfranchisement of voters, more invested in — and industrious about — making sure that as many people as possible are drawn into the process. Then shouldn’t it want its candidates on vivid, continuous display? Shouldn’t it connect them with the largest audience that it can? I’m surprised that I haven’t heard more griping about this. What I’ve heard instead is the concern that if Clinton indeed gets the nomination, she’ll enter the general election less battle-tested than she’d be if she were facing stiffer primary competition and enduring a greater number of higher-stakes debates. Maybe. But a politician who’s been through Whitewater, Travelgate, impeachment, an emotional 2008 campaign against Barack Obama and several Benghazi inquisitions doesn’t strike me as someone who needs more battle experience or someone who’s going to be surprised, cowed or disoriented by anything that a Republican nominee throws at her. Clinton is more than adequately steeled. The real danger for her is that she’s become all armor. And a real vulnerability is that she’s seen by voters as entrenched political royalty and thus distant — too distant — from those “everyday Americans” she talked about so much at the start of her campaign. That’s one of the problems with the Democratic debate schedule: It smacks of special treatment, and Clinton, who set up her own home-brewed email account as secretary of state, can’t afford to keep giving voters the impression that normal rules don’t apply to her. And the Democratic Party can’t pretend that it’s done the right thing here. While these debates aren’t as high-minded as we’d wish or as illuminating as we sometimes pretend, they’re an important piece of the puzzle of figuring out candidates, with a bit more spontaneity and surprise than many other facets of the modern campaign. They deserve priority and prominence. Artichoke dip optional.