Democrats Set Six Presidential Debates, Republicans Search For A Big Enough Debate Stage

Hillary Clinton will meet Bernie Sanders and whomever else decides to enter the Presidential race on the Democratic side in debates six times, at least that’s what the Democratic National Committee is saying:

Democrats will announce Tuesday six presidential primary debates, giving long shots a potential opportunity to share the debate stage with frontrunner Hillary Clinton, CNN has learned.

The Democratic National Committee has plans for debates to occur in the early-contest states of Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina. The two other locations will be decided at a later date.

“Our debate schedule will not only give Democratic voters multiple opportunities to size up the candidates for the nomination side-by-side, but will give all Americans a chance to see a unified Democratic vision of economic opportunity and progress — no matter whom our nominee may be,” said DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz who confirmed debate details in a statement shortly after CNN broke this story.

The DNC will set the criteria for debate inclusion and any candidate who participates in a separate debate outside of the sanctioning process will be barred from future DNC debates, a Democratic official told CNN.

The official said that the DNC decided six debates was a reasonable number and in line with what the national committee sanctioned in 2008. The debate process won’t begin until the fall, according to the official, because that is “when voters are truly beginning to pay attention.”

The Republican nominees for President are set to meet in no more than a dozen debates during the cycle, but their problem won’t be the number of debates so much as finding a big enough stage:

After suffering through a seemingly endless and unwieldy stream of 23 debates in the 2012 cycle, the Republican National Committee took control of the process, marshaling networks and candidates to agree to a framework where they only participate in fewer than a dozen sanctioned debates. But now the national party and networks face the new challenge of arranging as many as 17 candidates on a single televised stage.

Largely out of view, executives and journalists from Fox and CNN, with input from the national party, are weighing the entrance criteria for the first two debates. Among the options being considered is using polling as a rough inclusionary test, followed by a fundraising metric—dollars raised or the number of individual donors activated. All of these things are in flux as the networks and the national party struggle with the largest plausible debate field in history.

“This is truly historic in that normally you are trying to get people into the debates and now you are trying to whittle people out of the debates,” said one Republican operative familiar with the debate process. “You’ve never had more than 10 candidates in either party on a debate stage. You could get to at least 16 to 17 candidates and make a legitimate case for them being there—easy.”

It strikes me that it will be difficult for the party and debate organizers to exclude many candidates from the early debates based solely on poll numbers given the fact that this debate will be the first opportunity for many of them to even introduce themselves to the public. Other considerations will likely play a role as well. For example, would Republicans really want to exclude Carly Fiorina, the only woman the race, based on her poll numbers given the message that is likely to send? Additionally, if there are sitting Governors who are polling low it seems likely it will be hard to keep them out of at least the early debates. The most interesting question, though, comes in the person of Donald Trump, who has formed an exploratory committee but hasn’t announced if he’s running yet. Assuming that he does, it seems as though it would be hard to keep him off the stage even though letting him on the stage means that he’s likely to steal the spotlight from other, more serious candidates. After these first debates, it will be easier to exclude underperforming candidates of course, but expect to see a very crowded stage for at least the first debate or two.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. sam says:

    Perhaps the Republicans could get in touch with the Ringling Brothers.

  2. winfield scott says:

    @sam: Excellent idea. A three-ring debate and at any given moment during the debate we pay attention to the most exciting ring.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    Swimsuit competition and cage matches to reduce the number of contestants.

  4. JWH says:

    @sam: Can we fire Ted Cruz out of a cannon?

  5. JWH says:

    @michael reynolds: Do you want to see Rick Santorum in a swimsuit?

  6. michael reynolds says:

    I would pay a lot to avoid seeing Santorum in a bathing suit and a lot more to see Cruz fired out of a cannon.

  7. Pinky says:

    I don’t understand why all candidates have to appear on the same stage. You could have more debates with fewer people. (My dream is to see the debates dropped entirely, replaced by interviews with maybe two decent questioners.)

  8. JWH says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Rich Santorum in nothing but his sweater vest and a Speedo …

  9. JWH says:

    @Pinky: I favor a steel cage match or American Gladiators.

  10. CS says:

    Can we just trap them all on an island somewhere and kick off the Hunger Games?

    Of course, the phrase “May the Odds be ever in your favor” means something rather different – Odd is a pretty accurate description of a large chunk of the Republican Primary voters.

  11. Scott says:

    I think the Republican debates should be in a large circle. It could be sponsored by the NRA. Each debater would be issued a weapon. That should prove amusing.

  12. Cd6 says:

    16 or 17 of these cartoon characters each desperately fighting for oxygen on stage is going to be absolutely Glorious. I’m legitimately excited.

    Plus lots of material for the Gopdammerung

    Here’s a Cruz one for y’all:
    Rafael was lounging upon his plush purple chaise when there was a knock. He nodded, ever so slightly, and one of his attendants left his side to answer it. A short, bookish brunette stood neatly at the door.

    “I’m Rebecca Dearborn, from Buzzfeed, here for our interview,” was her introduction. Rafael nodded once more, and the young girl was admitted.

    Rebecca made it six steps into the great chamber before she truly looked around to take stock of where she was; she gasped.

    “I didn’t expect you here, in my chambers,” Rafael demurred. He reached an arm back, to pluck a plump green grape from the tray offered by his female attendant. He placed it neatly in his mouth, tested the firmness of its skin with his tongue, and then ate. “Would you like to partake in these grapes?”

    “No thank you,” the girl squeaked.

    “I must urge you reconsider. They come from Cyprus. It’s truly a banner harvest this year.”

    “I’m ok,” said the girl. She was terrified. This was, in no way to minimize words, completely unexpected. Senator Cruz’s local campaign office building outwardly appeared to be a nondescript brownstone, like any others. But this interior… it was bizarre. Marble lined every visible surface. Naked, erotic cherubs adorned the walls and crown molding. A great center table before her was covered in an elegant and elaborate feast of what looked like roast duck, and various other delicacies.

    “Senator Cruz, if this is a bad time…” she said meekly.

    “You may call me Rafeal,” he said, as his androgynous attendants rubbed perfumed oils into his chest.

    “I thought you preferred ‘Ted Cruz,'” she said.

    “Child, I have not yet donned that mask.”

    “Ok….” she stammered.

    “You have come for an interview. Allow me to give it,” Rafeal rose from his chaise, scattering his pale, thin attendants like startled butterflies.

    “Are you sure this is not a bad time?” Rebecca shielded her eyes. Rafael was only wearing a small white loincloth. His skin glistened, and smelled, ever so faintly, of lilacs.

    “This time is fine. Dare I say, there isn’t a minute to waste. Every moment we have is precious, child.” Rafael approached and stood before her. He gently placed a hand upon her cheeks. “You are a delicate specimen, indeed. Would you consider lovemaking with me, Rafael? Here in my chambers?”

    “No thank you,” she said.

    “Very well then. Here is your interview.” He handed her a stack of several typewritten pages, and then walked towards a chocolate fountain near the window. He lazily ran his finger through it, then stuck it in his mouth, savoring the flavors.

    “I didn’t ask you any questions…” Rebecca began.

    “All your questions are there in those sheets. As well as the answers.” Rafael appeared as if he was dismissing her.

    “But… but that’s not how this works,” Rebecca, despite her incredible confusion, became irritated. “I’m supposed to ask you questions. And report the answers. My readers need to know about this. And all of this is very…. odd.”

    “You will write nothing of what you see here,” Rafael said, quietly. He picked up and studied a porcelain vase that was upon the marble bench near where he was standing. “My true nature can never be revealed. If it is, I shall have you destroyed.” He said it blankly.

    “What?” Rebecca gasped. A large, multicolored peacock strutted by. She tried to shoo it out of the way.

    “I will be the next president, child. Oh yes.” Rafael set the vase down, and then turned and faced his interviewer. “This primary is merely a formality. The conclusion is decided. The world get can’t enough Ted Cruz. He will win. I shall win. Ultimate power will be mine.” He looked down his nose at her, regarding her, for the first time, as a target.

    Rebecca stepped back. She was no longer irritated at losing her interview. She was scared.

    “Who… who are you?”

    “Rafael.” He said this calmly, for he knew the reporter would now submit. His intimidation over the poor girl was complete. He felt his tension release, and he returned to his plush purple chaise. His attendants, unbidden, came to service him once more.

    Rebecca Dearborn fled the chamber. She submitted the rote questions and answers Rafael has prepared for her, and then submitted her resignation. She left politics, and then the country. Her last facebook status update indicated she was doing missionary work in Africa. Her friends thought it was for a noble cause. None of them knew she did it to get away…. to escape… from Rafael.

    Rafael’s Pantheon
    J Street, Washington DC

  13. MikeSJ says:

    I can see all the candidates up on stage – lined up all bright and eager behind their podiums.

    All in blue suits and red ties, obligatory flag pins in place. Maybe Carly has some color in her outfit. No matter.

    Then…a Bengal Tiger is let loose on the stage. Let the debate begin! Who gets shredded to pieces? Who runs off screaming in terror? (Well, besides Ted Cruz, that’s a given)

    And most importantly, who has the cojones to stand and calmly answer questions while their fellow debaters get dragged about and devoured on stage?

    Now that would be a debate worth watching.

  14. Pete S says:

    @sam: If they can all fit in the same clown car, it should be no problem fitting them all on a stage. It’s not like any Republican running so far is going to say anything worth hearing, it might be fun to see them all jumping up and down waving their arms in the air like Horshack trying to get Mr Kotter to call on him.

  15. anjin-san says:

    The clown car posse has grown to where they could do a bitchin’ conga line…

  16. Pinky says:

    Out of curiosity, when was the last time that something said during a debate changed your vote, anyone? Let’s not count the indirect ones – where a candidate doing poorly makes you think that the press is going to turn on him, reducing his chances of success, so that makes you less likely to vote for him. I’m talking about a statement that convinced you that he is or is not the right man for the job.

  17. Moosebreath says:

    “Hillary Clinton will meet Bernie Sanders and whomever else decides to enter the Presidential race on the Democratic side in debates six times”

    So at least 6 times in the next year, the national press will focus on a debate where having more people with medical insurance is considered a good thing, where transferring money from the middle class to the top 1% is a problem and not the preferred result of all economic decisions, and where the War in Iraq is viewed as a disaster. Good job, Bernie!!

  18. al-Ameda says:


    @michael reynolds: Do you want to see Rick Santorum in a swimsuit?

    Hey, hey, hey. This is a family website, we’ll have none of THAT.
    Can’t those guys rent Cowboy Stadium from Jerry Jones?

    “Out of curiosity, when was the last time that something said during a debate changed your vote, anyone?”
    Good point. The “NASCAR Rules” are in effect: that is, people show up to see the crashes and the spin outs.

  19. Tillman says:

    @Pinky: Early on in the Dem primary debates in ’08, there was a split between those who would meet with Iranian leaders without preconditions versus those who wouldn’t — call them the Obama and Hillary factions. I recall being swayed against the Hillary faction because they would cloak their responses in various caveats that didn’t seem pertinent to the question at hand, which wasn’t about the process of diplomacy but the willingness to engage in it.

    As for presidential candidate debates, no, not since I’ve been capable of voting. I saw the 2000 debates and I probably would’ve voted for Bush had I the ability to; Gore was way too stiff for my liking.

  20. JWH says:


    Out of curiosity, when was the last time that something said during a debate changed your vote, anyone?

    I don’t know that a debate has changed my vote. But I do think the debates give me a better idea of the people running for office, and they could potentially nudge me toward voting for them down the road. In the 2012 cycle, I recall that somebody asked the sharia question of the GOP candidates. Most of the candidates took various pandering stances. Romney on the other hand, said bluntly that sharia law was not going to take root in American courts at all.

    That told me something.

    I don’t live in New Hampshire, Florida, Iowa or South Carolina. Therefore, I’m not going to get the chance to take a close in-person look at these candidates. A debate is the closest I’m going to get to assessing the candidates’ abilities and character. So, yes, I want to see them continue.

  21. JWH says:

    One more thought: I also think debates are useful for seeing how a candidate handles stress. The debate itself is a stressful situation. It has high subjective stakes, as it can make or break a politician’s campaign. But it has relatively low objective stakes, as a politician’s career is the only casualty of a poor debate performance. I like to see how well the candidate handles this pressure. If a candidate folds like a cheap accordion when questioned by a mildly confrontational CNN reporter, I don’t want that candidate anywhere near negotiations with Iran over its nuclear arsenal.

  22. Thomas Weaver says:

    To find out anything about Hildabeast, we would have to watch all six debates and have someone besides the alphabet news media ask questions. Then we might find out that she is not a transgender….