The stakes and unpredictability of presidential debates make compelling television. The more candidates, the more unpredictable they become.
This week’s Democratic debates, staged by NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo, feature more candidates than the party has ever fielded. That might leave all 20 delivering brief, introductory versions of their stump speeches, or provoke long shots to seek attention by assailing better-known rivals such as Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren.
But recent history shows the debates can reveal the candidates’ skills and character – even if the two stand at odds.
Here are five examples over the last 3 decades of what Democratic primary debates can show.
“PROFILES IN COURAGE”
In Dec. 1987, former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt played Elizabeth Warren’s present-day role as as the Democrat most willing to spell out a detailed presidential agenda.
When NBC anchor Tom Brokaw challenged six Democrats to stand up if they supported tax increases, Babbitt rose to his feet alone.