Several Republicans Likely To Be Excluded From Third Debate
The next Republican debate is likely to be a lot smaller than the previous two, and that could prove fatal for several candidates.
The next Republican debate is just a month away and several campaigns are starting to realize that they could get frozen out, something which likely could spell the end for several already struggling candidates:
The uncertain terms of the next Republican debate are setting off a wave of anxiety among middle and bottom tier campaigns, with several lashing out at the Republican National Committee for failing to provide clarity on how many candidates will appear on stage.
The campaigns fear the entry criteria for the Oct. 28 debate are being designed to reduce the number of candidates on stage for the third primetime debate — a life-or-death matter for White House hopefuls on the bubble.
While the RNC doesn’t set the rules, it does have a voice in working with the networks running the debates. The committee has not said how many candidates will be allowed into the primetime debate, which will be held in Boulder, Colorado, and broadcast on CNBC. Nor are there any indications there will be an undercard event, as there have been in the first two debate showdowns of the primary season.
“With the next debate a month away, it is maddening that the RNC has yet to provide any guidance to campaigns regarding the criteria that they and CNBC plan to use to exclude candidates,” said Curt Anderson, an adviser to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who appeared in both undercards. In the spin room after CNN recent debate, Jindal spokesperson Gail Gitcho said they already had plans to speak with CNBC in order to keep Jindal on the stage.
A senior adviser to another Republican candidate also expressed suspicion that the party was looking to winnow the field of candidates. “Insiders in Washington want to limit the debates because they want their two favorites, Bush and Rubio, to take on Donald Trump,” the adviser said. “They’re whispering in [RNC Chairman] Reince Priebus’s ear that, ‘The stage is too big, make it smaller.'”
The radio silence extends beyond the entry criteria to other aspects of the debate — such as who the moderators will be, and how long the duration will be.
“Campaigns simply want to know — what’s the criteria, and what’s the format.” said Chris LaCivita, an adviser to Rand Paul.
Though the debate will be on NBC partner CNBC, Chuck Todd, NBC’s political director and the moderator of Meet the Press, is taking part in establishing the debate set up and criteria. And Todd has publicly expressed skepticism about the need to include 10 or 11 candidates, the numbers featured in the first two debates.
“Let’s just say the goal is to create a threshold that candidates have to meet to qualify for the stage rather than committing to putting 10 candidates on the stage. And I don’t think we should commit to more than 10-candidate debates. You have to be viable. So now we’re in debate three it’s time to show viability and only the viable ones survive,” Todd said during an interview on ESPN radio last week.
“You can do it a couple different ways. I don’t believe in setting a set number. I think maybe you come up with ‘oh are you at 5 percent or more in Iowa or New Hampshire’ you can create a sort of floor, no more 4-percenters get in, no more 3-percenters get in.”
While such a floor would clearly eliminate Jindal, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, former New York Gov. George Pataki and former Pennsylania Sen. Rick Santorum, it could also threaten other candidates of lower standing, including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
The debate criteria are potentially more important for candidates this time around than they were in the past two debates because it now seems clear that elimination from the main stage will mean elimination from the debate entirely. In each of the previous two debates, the sponsoring media companies have held two debates, the main debate which was aired in prime time and an early debate between the candidates that didn’t meet the criteria for the main stage. While both of these debates, called the “undercard” or “Kids Table” debate depending on whether you took those candidates seriously, garnered far fewer viewers than the prime time show they did give each of these candidates the kind of free air time that any candidate struggling in the poll needs in order to have even a remove chance of making a breakthrough. In August, Carly Fiorina’s performance in the undercard debate got her enough positive attention that it vaulted her in the post-debate polls and got her an invitation to the main debate earlier this month. Now, she’s polling in third place in the national polls and in New Hampshire and in fourth place in Iowa. We haven’t seen a similar breakout from the second undercard debate, and we’re not likely to, but nonetheless this kind of media attention was essential to candidates who are already struggling in the polls. Now, it appears that they will not be getting that free media anymore. After the last debate, RNC Communications Director Scott Spicer said that there were not likely to any more undercard debates, and the initial talk about the plans for the upcoming CNBC debate seem to reinforce that point. That means that any candidates locked out of the main debate will not be getting any media time at all, and that could be fatal to their already struggling campaigns.
The new debate criteria are likely to impact more than just the four candidates who would end up in an undercard debate again. From the comments by NBC’s Churck Todd and others, it seems clear that the debate planners are looking to limit the number of candidates on the stage to something less than the ten we saw in August and the eleven we saw two weeks ago. Limiting the debate to eight participants, for example, and basing the criteria off of the current RealClearPolitics national average, for example, would mean that Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee would both be eliminated from the debate. If different polling standards are used, such as the standings in Iowa or New Hampshire, then Chris Christie and John Kasich could also being in danger of being kept off the stage. Given the fact that each of these candidates is also struggling in the polls, with the vultures already beginning to circle Rand Paul and rumors he is starting to focus his attention on his Senate re-election rather than an increasingly quixotic Presidential campaign, being excluded from the debates going forward is likely to be the beginning of the end for many of them.