Networks to Limit Republican Debate Field

With 14 candidates vying for the Republican nomination, TV execs are scrambling to make the debates watchable.

Dec 15 Fox Iowa Debate

With at least fourteen nationally-recognizable candidates vying for the Republican nomination, the television networks are scrambling to make the debates watchable.

WaPo (“Fox News rules will limit the field in first GOP presidential debate“):

Fox News announced guidelines Wednesday that will winnow the field of participants in the first Republican debate of the 2016 presidential campaign.

The network will require contenders to place in the top 10 in an average of the five most recent national polls in the run-up to the event, narrowing what is expected to be a field of 16 or more by the Aug. 6 event in Cleveland.

The rule could trigger an early rush of spending by lower-tier candidates seeking to boost their standing in national surveys before the pivotal first forum.

Meanwhile, CNN laid out a different approach for the second debate on Sept. 16, which will be split into two parts — one featuring the top 10 candidates in public polling and a second that will include lower-tiered candidates who garner at least 1 percent in polls. The forum, being held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., will also require participants to have at least one paid campaign worker in two of the four early voting states.

Determining which contenders will get to participate in the official forums sanctioned by the Republican National Committee has been a challenge for the cable news network and party officials. No GOP primary debate has ever featured more than 10 candidates.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said Wednesday that the party supports the approaches taken by the two cable networks.

Even 10 candidates makes for a clown show. Depending on the format, it’ll either be all screaming, all the time; all the other candidates ganging up on Jeb Bush; or most everybody saying pretty much the same thing. Either way, there’s little value to the audience.

Of the two approaches, I much prefer CNN’s.

The top 10 contenders in the five most recent national polls are former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, real estate tycoon Donald Trump and former Texas governor Rick Perry, according to a Washington Post analysis. Former U.S. senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are a fraction of a point behind Perry.

Lagging behind those 12 are Sen. Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina and former New York governor George Pataki.

While I can only see myself voting for a handful of them, all of the above-named candidates, with the possible exception of Carson, are objectively qualified to the president. Trump is a yahoo but he’s run a multi-billion dollar business for decades. Fiorina is widely considered a spectacular failure as CEO of HP but she has more management experience than most of our recent presidents. And the rest are governors and senators, the traditional pathways to major party nominations.

Jinal’s light has dimmed considerably since an ill-fated response speech some years back but he’s an honest-to-goodness genius who’s run a state’s university system, served in Congress, and governed a state. Graham is a very senior senator who’s also an Air Force Reserve colonel. Pataki ran what was then the second-largest state in the union for a dozen years. All of them have far superior resumes to either of the last two presidents at the time they ran for office. Denying them the opportunity to compete for the nomination on the basis that they’re less popular a year and a half out that Trump and Carson would be a travesty.

Frankly, even as someone who has followed national politics quite closely for more than three decades, I don’t have very strong views on many of the candidates. I recall Pataki as competent and a pleasant enough fellow who’s demonstrably qualified to be president but otherwise have no real idea where he stands on the national issues. Aside from his ham-handed handling of the teachers’ union early in his tenure as governor, I know little about Walker. I’d never heard of Fiorina until her futile bid to unseat Barbara Boxer and paid little attention to other than the horserace aspect of that contest. In short, I don’t really have much basis for choosing amongst them. I strongly suspect most Republican primary voters are less informed than I am.

Ultimately, any announced candidate who has served a full term as a US Senator, governor, or vice president should be allowed to participate in some fashion in the early debates. Indeed, we’d probably be better off with early debates featuring only the less popular of the serious candidates as a play-in to the later debates than trying to cram ten people onto the same stage, anyway.

Once the voters in Iowa and New Hampshire have spoken, it becomes reasonable to winnow the field. While those states are horribly unrepresentative, they’re the early testing grounds and we’ve never nominated a candidate who didn’t win one of them. Eliminating all the candidates who don’t finish in top three in on of those contests or who aren’t either registering 20% in the national polls of likely Republican primary voters would focus the subsequent debates.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Trump is a yahoo but….

    No James, no “but”, just stop at “yahoo”.

    Fiorina is widely considered a spectacular failure as CEO of HP but she has more management experience than most of our recent presidents.

    Running a business is nothing like governing a country, nothing at all. When you’re President, “Do it because I say so.” does not work because Congress is full of egos that are absolutely certain they can do a better job than you and aren’t about to do anything without some quid pro quo. All of which is without even pointing out, she-was-a-failure.

    Jindal’s light has dimmed considerably since an ill-fated response speech some years back but he’s an honest-to-goodness genius who’s run a state’s university system, served in Congress, and governed a state.

    Your “honest-to-goodness genius” has now put his state’s university system on the edge of bankruptcy with his latest budget proposal.. His latest “religious freedom” stunt has totally and irrevocably destroyed any shot he might ever have had at national office and his favorability (sp?) in LA is somewhere south of Obama. In Louisiana. I’m no genius but even I am smart enough to know that this man is not a “viable candidate”.

    Graham is a very senior senator who’s also an Air Force Reserve colonel.

    Graham pees all over himself every time ISIS makes a press release.

    Pataki ran what was then the second-largest state in the union for a dozen years.

    And not even New Yorkers can name a single thing he did then.

    While I can only see myself voting for a handful of them,

    Which leaves you with Jeb Bush(can’t even answer an Iraq question without it blowing up in his face), Marco Rubio(ditto), Scott Walker(dumb as a box of rocks), Rand Paul(complete conspiracy theory whacko), Ted Cruz(complete egotistical a-hole), Mike Huckabee (Mike who?), Ben Carson(contrary to popular Republican opinion, just being black won’t get you black votes), Chris Christie(bridgegate,), Rick Perry (a former Gov of Texas and dumber than a box of rocks, we’ve already had one of those), Rick Santorum(nuff said), and Gov. John Kasich. I don’t know much about Kasich, maybe he’s the handful you are referring to.

  2. Mikey says:

    With at least fourteen nationally-recognizable candidates vying for the Republican nomination, the television networks are scrambling to make the debates watchable.

    Your statement assumes something that’s clearly impossible.

  3. James Pearce says:

    Ultimately, any announced candidate who has served a full term as a US Senator, governor, or vice president should be allowed to participate in some fashion in the early debates.

    Not sure I agree with this entirely. While this would make it easier to favor Jindal over Fiorina, for instance, if one needed to have one and not the other, but what it really does is discourages non-politicians from running. I don’t want to tell the next Eisenhower* he can’t be in the debate because he never held elected office. The idea, I think, is not to get too precious about previous experience in elected government.

    And truth be told, the networks shouldn’t be implementing these limits. I understand why they do; it’s a show, with branding and promotion and revenue at stake. But public interests dictate they shouldn’t be doing it. If the RNC wants to limit the number of candidates, that’s one thing. But the networks shouldn’t be doing a Top 10. Chop the circus up for commercials if they must but don’t cut the clown show.

    * Not that any of the current candidates are Ike-like.

  4. MarkedMan says:

    James, I’m assuming by “objectively qualified” you are speaking about minimum qualifications and not that the individuals are all good presidential material?

    In any case, I want to second Ozark’s comment about Fiorina. Running a business is nothing like running a government. I always remember Ross Perot’s comment, when asked how he would get two fractious houses of Congress to work with him, replied that he would lock the leaders up in a room with him and not let them out until they had reached agreement. And of course that is a very viable thing to do when you are CEO but Perot really seemed to believe he had the authority to lock up Tip O’Neill in a room. What would he have done when Tip told him to blow smoke out his a**hole and walked out? Start jumping up and down and scream for the Secret Service agents to shoot?

  5. Tony W says:

    Let ’em all campaign and let’s just skip the primaries altogether. One big election with 200 people on the ballot. I never understood why our political parties hate democracy.

  6. grumpy realist says:

    James James James…..

    There is no evidence whatsoever that Bobby Jindal has any smarts whatsoever. He’s mismanaged Louisiana to the point that his support is south of Obama’s, he’s trashing the university system, and running the local economy onto the rocks because he’s terrified Grover Norquist will say boo to him.

    (I forget who it was who said “son, unless you can take their money, drink their whisky, flirt with their women–and then vote against them the next morning, you’ll never make it in politics.”)

  7. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: @MarkedMan: I think many of these people are kooks and yahoos. I just think that–again, with the possible exception of Carson—they all have crossed the bar as to being qualified to run for the presidency.

    @James Pearce: I was going to include “four-star general” on the list but I don’t think that’s in-and-of-itself a sufficient bar. Ike ran something so much more massive than any of today’s four-stars that he’s an anomaly. But we’d always allow in anyone who is wildly popular.

    @grumpy realist: Jindal is demonstrably brilliant. That’s not the same thing as being a competent manager, much less being qualified to be leader of the free world. If it came down to it, I’d probably vote for Hillary over him. I’m just saying he’s earned a spot on the debate stage.

    @Tony W: I’ve advocated a national primary with a run-off for years. It’s never going to happen.

  8. Pete S says:

    Unless I am missing something, all of the Republican candidates are more or less running on a campaign of “more wars, lower taxes for the rich, less health care for the poor, don’t you hate the Clintons”. There is no way there is going to be any substance in any debate. The first person to answer a question will try to establish an extreme position, and everyone else will just say “me too only more”.

    So the only way a debate could be “watchable” would be the entertainment value of the fringe candidates shouting each other down and trying to pander to the worst elements of the base. Trying to keep them out is not going to make the debates watchable.

  9. Tony W says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’ve advocated a national primary with a run-off for years. It’s never going to happen.

    My father is fond of pointing out that Russia has now elected several presidents democratically, and we still haven’t. Party-controlled primaries and the Electoral College are the main impediments. Let’s keep up the good fight. I agree we won’t win, but maybe our grandchildren will see a democratic election for President of the United States before they die.

  10. Scott says:

    @James Pearce: Colin Powell would’ve been off the list also and I think he would’ve been considered “objectively qualified”….(Not the same as supporting)

  11. grumpy realist says:

    @James Joyner: Where do you get “demonstrably brilliant” for Jindal? Unless you want to use “brilliant” like I use the example of my ex-boyfriend who was a “demonstrably brilliant” theoretical physicist and absolutely clueless about how to deal with people. (Also the sort of person who thinks that if a recipe says to cook something for 2 hours at 200 degrees F you can shove it in the oven for 1 hour at 400 degrees F. He actually did that.)

  12. James Joyner says:

    @Scott: Sure. But Powell would have qualified on the current popularity criteria. While “four-star general” is too low a bar for the presidency, perhaps Chairman of the Joint Chiefs or Combatant Commander could be added.

    @grumpy realist: Jindal’s IQ is off the charts and his academic achievements are stellar. From his Wikipedia bio:

    Jindal attended Baton Rouge Magnet High School, graduating in 1988 at the top of his class. While in high school, he competed in tennis tournaments, and started a computer newsletter, a retail candy business, and a mail-order software company. He spent his free time working at the stands during LSU football games.[5] Jindal was one of 50 students nationwide admitted to the Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME) at Brown University, guaranteeing him a place in medical school. Jindal completed majors in biology and public policy. He graduated in 1991 at the age of 20, with honors in both majors.[5][6] Jindal was named to the 1992 USA Today All-USA Academic Team. He applied to and was accepted by both Harvard Medical School and Yale Law School, but studied at New College, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar. He received an M.Litt. degree in political science with an emphasis in health policy from the University of Oxford in 1994, where the subject of his thesis was “A needs-based approach to health care”.

    One can be objectively brilliant and be a bad manager of people, lacking in “common sense,” and otherwise a really poor choice for president.

  13. grumpy realist says:

    @James Joyner: I read that and raise the following for myself:
    six degrees, including a Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics and a J.D. Bunch of awards. Have written two books, more papers and articles than you can shake a stick at, formed 5 companies. 7 languages under my belt, including Japanese and Latin.

    And I consider myself BELOW AVERAGE in the crowd I run with.

    Jindal ain’t bright in my book. He’s a clueless jerk who should have been squelched repeatedly in college rather than getting his head patted and told how wonderful he was.

  14. Pinky says:

    I’d want at least one series of debates with four candidates at a time, multiple days, by drawing. I’d want debates on particular topics. I’d also like to see Meet the Press format interviews.

    Truthfully, what I’d rather see is each candidate be required (or urged) to produce one half-hour youtube presentation. Three 10-minute segments, on foreign policy, fiscal policy, and social policy. Wave flags, present charts, hire Michael Bay to make it look like you’re fighting Transformers, whatever. Those and a stack of resumes are all I’d really want.

  15. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner:

    Jindal’s IQ is off the charts and his academic achievements are stellar.

    Wow. It’s amazing how someone so book-smart can be so clueless when it comes to the real world. I’m reminded of the time I walked into a meeting with my Chinese colleagues who were all buzzing about (as near as I could gather from my bad Mandarin) a TV show they had all watched the night before. It was about the best students in China for the past twenty or so years, and what had happened to them. Side note: the best student in China is not a matter of opinion. Every year, every student who plans on attending college takes the same test. The best student is the one with the highest score. Period. Anyway, they were kind of laughing but I could tell they were also a bit upset. Because the best students, the ones that had studied the hardest, the ones who had parents and grandparents who had sacrificed everything to supplement their studies, hire better coaches, find them better schools. The ones who had done everything the perfect family was supposed to do. Well, they had turned out… about average. Maybe a little above average, but not dramatically so. And my colleagues were like, ‘OK, we know that academics aren’t everything but, come on, not even the best student!?”

  16. grumpy realist says:

    @MarkedMan: There’s always the fun when the book-smart person hits the road and discovers that he ain’t so smart as he thinks he is. I’ve been watching two variants of this, recently:

    1) top achiever in law school ( high GPA, Law Review, clerk for judge, all nine yards) is shocked to discover that clients don’t automatically beat a path to his door.

    2) Scientists/engineers with “the greatest thing since sliced bread” technology found start-up and are indignant that people don’t immediately purchase their gee-whiz technology because “it’s so cool!”

    One of the best pieces of horse-sense advice I ever received was from an accounting professor who told me to go off and work in high-tech sales for a while. Actual sales–not quite cold calling but damn near that, from initial nibble all the way through to actual installation of equipment.

    He was right.

  17. DrDaveT says:

    While I can only see myself voting for a handful of them, all of the above-named candidates, with the possible exception of Carson, are objectively qualified to the president.

    I can’t figure out how you could be defining “objectively qualified” in a way that excludes Carson (who is legally sane, of age, and a citizen) but doesn’t exclude anyone else. Carly and Trump don’t have any government experience either. (And no, running a large company is not relevant job experience for governing.)

  18. DrDaveT says:

    @grumpy realist:

    And I consider myself BELOW AVERAGE in the crowd I run with.

    Roger that. People who have never run with the real geniuses just don’t get it.

    I’ve met quite a few people with credentials like Jindal’s. Some of them are clearly smarter than I am. Some of them clearly aren’t.

  19. Jim Riley says:

    How about setting this up like sportsworld playoffs? Top few get a bye round and the rest have to win in order to advance? Then you set up the debate set like the panel for The Hollywood Squares.

  20. the Q says:

    “…..the television networks are scrambling to make the debates watchable….” what could be more watchable than having 16 clowns all debating flatulence. The more the merrier. This isn’t substantive debating, its a sideshow, so 16 clowns are automatically more watchable than 10 clowns.

    Maybe they could do a “free speech costs money” routine, whereby the moderator asks a question and they all bid on who can answer the question. Whoever bids highest talks longest.

    Why should this debate with its fake accessiblility rules and equal time to answer questions be different than the real world of huge $$$$$$ dominance?

    Let the richest candidate buy up all the response time. The disgust by the members too poor to compete will maybe reflect the angst felt by the rubes who vote.

  21. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Tony W: Does your father really believe that Russia’s electoral system is less corrupt and ingrown than ours? In the age of Putin? Please…

    I mean, I agree with your complaint about the rigged nature of our system, but I would guess that all modern nations have the same inherent flaws in who and how you get far enough into the system to run for national office.

  22. Tyrell says:

    So once again the controlled media will be filtering, editing, programming, and scripting what the people see and hear.

  23. RWB says:

    Why not choose the 10 in what has become the new American election tradition? The 10 campaigns that pay Fox the most money get in the debate, the rest walk.

  24. David M says:

    Is being smart actually a plus for Republican candidates? Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal could probably be the two GOP candidates who’ve achieved the most academically, and might be considered the smartest. However, I don’t see how it’s helped them so far. Jindal has made the situation in Louisiana worse, which is impressive, but for all the wrong reasons. Cruz is a sociopathic a-hole who can’t actually accomplish anything. Their smarts don’t seem to actually result in any actual policy achievements.

  25. Ken says:

    @David M: Is being smart actually a plus for Republican candidates?

    Being smart is completely irrelevant to the success of a Republican. Acting smart, on the other hand, is very relevant, and a huge liability

    For example, Jindal has a degree in biology, but he has to pretend to be a creationist to stay electable as a Republican. Republicans very much want people who seem smart, who have credentials that “prove” they’re smart, but who stll repeat all of the ridiculously stupid wingnut beliefs.

    If you think that sex education leads to promiscuity, and abstinence-only education reduces pregnancy, abortion, and STDs, despite the fact that this is demonstrably untrue, are you going to vote for the guy who is extremely smart that says these beliefs are bullshiat? Or are you going to vote for the guy who proudly boasts about his smartness credentials and then tells you that he agrees with you 100 percent?

  26. Pinky says:

    @Ken: Abstinence-only programs with no follow-through are ineffective, long-term. Abstinence-only programs with support and follow-through do have positive results.

  27. Grewgills says:

    @Pinky:
    Can you link to any study that shows that and what do support and follow through entail?

  28. David M says:

    @Pinky:

    Abstinence-only programs with no follow-through are ineffective, long-term. Abstinence-only programs with support and follow-through do have positive results.

    Seems like pretty solid evidence that abstinence-only programs should be considered ineffective as general public policy.