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.

Republican Debate September 16

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.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds 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. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Grumpy Realist says:

    Oh, Bobby Jindal is now complaining that reality is hitting his campaign?

    Figures!




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  2. Argon says:

    I’d say that Jindal, Huckabee, Paul, Santorum, Graham et al. are running vanity races but I’d also have include most of the front runners in that list too. Hmm…




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  3. Mu says:

    Looking at the current averages there’s a clear line around 5%. Let the top six go prime time and keep the undercard with the rest.




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  4. C. Clavin says:

    Republicans in Boulder??? The Peoples Republic of Boulder???
    Boulder frequently acquires top rankings in health, well-being, quality of life, education and art.
    Those things are all anathema to Republicans.
    WTF?




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  5. C. Clavin says:

    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.’”

    I said here the other day that the Party would do something to sabotage Trump…to rig the game against him.




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  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Oh oh oh, those poor poor once rising Republican stars…. Crocodile tears cover my face as their dreams of glory disappear in a flash in a flash of hubris.




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  7. Gustopher says:

    Can’t we just stick them on an island and make them eat bugs?

    We could film it if people wanted such things, but I’d prefer them to just be abandoned there with nothing to eat but bugs and each other. Maybe tell them that the last one left gets to be the nominee, just for spite, but really just abandon the lot of them.




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  8. Tillman says:

    @Gustopher: Yeah let’s go full Reality TV on this, tired of this half-assed circus. Presidential contests in the future are going to resemble pit fighting, and this will be considered good.




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  9. James Joyner says:

    There’s no obvious way to do this. I’d argue that Chris Christie, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, and others have better claim to “serious candidate” status than Ben Carson, whatever the polls say. For that matter, Carli Fiorina was at the “kid’s table” in the first debate and has now catapulted into second place after a couple good debate performances. It’s just too early to have either the networks or the RNC artificially limit the field.




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  10. charon says:

    @Mu:

    Let the top six go prime time and keep the undercard with the rest.

    Except the undercard TV ratings would be unacceptable to the network.




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  11. al-Ameda says:

    @James Joyner:

    There’s no obvious way to do this. I’d argue that Chris Christie, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, and others have better claim to “serious candidate” status than Ben Carson, whatever the polls say.

    I believe all of the afore-mentioned folks are in this – and I include Fiorina too – for a cabinet post in the next Republican administration.

    Fiorina, if she’s able to blow off her record of failure as a CEO could very well be seriously considered as vice presidential material.




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  12. James Pearce says:

    I remain uncomfortable with the idea of the networks weeding out contenders in the debates before voters have had their say. In another time, maybe. In the age of binge-watching and live-streaming it’s just kind of lazy and self-serving (for the networks). I know they really want to retain their status as gatekeepers, but they serve another purpose in this context.




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  13. DrDaveT says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Fiorina, if she’s able to blow off her record of failure as a CEO could very well be seriously considered as vice presidential material.

    Why on earth would anyone want Fiorina as veep? A vice president who can’t take direction is a huge liability to any administration.




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  14. Mu says:

    @charon: It’s CNBC. The rating is * anyway.




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  15. Locke says:

    The problem with this is that the national polls aren’t super decisive at this point, and even if you wanted to claim that they were, there are a number of credible polls that are left out on considering the candidate’s average. For example Rand Paul has been doing great in straw polls (where actual voters have shown up) and in a Rueters poll, both showing him as a top contender, but on a couple other polls he’s doing poorly. It would be crazy to kick someone like him off the main event. But then again the media is usually not looking for sensible nor to help inform the public, they’re just looking for viewers and to appease masses.




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