Here Is An Elegant Solution To The GOP's Debate Mess

Pick-up basketball can fix many problems -- including this one.

Dear Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus,

It has come to the attention of basically everybody that the Republican presidential candidates and the RNC are displeased with how the primary debates have gone. On Sunday, a meeting will take place amongst representatives of the campaigns to figure out a new system that is less unwieldy and adversarial and more equitable.

In the spirit of finding a solution that could satisfy all parties involved -- including the media -- let me offer the following proposal that I came up with in between drinks last night:


What the f**k is that, you ask? It is a debate process that simultaneously rewards the front-runners while not disadvantaging the low-polling horde. It creates equity of time among candidates while allowing them more leverage in choosing a moderator. It keeps the debates at a reasonable length while simultaneously adding elements of drama.

In short, it’s perfect.

Here is how it works. 

  1. You hold two debates, back to back, each for an hour and a half.
  2. There is a different moderator for each debate.
  3. The top two polling candidates, in terms of national polling averages, are split up into different debates.
  4. The top polling candidate is given a choice: choose the time and moderator for their debate or get first selection on one fellow candidate to have in their debate.
  5. Once that choice is made, the top two candidates alternate picks to select their debate competitors.
  6. Selections continue until all candidates are chosen.
  7. And then, you debate!

Pick-Up Debate Ball alleviates many of the concerns campaigns currently have about the debate structure. It would result in more debate time for the candidates. Instead of 120 minutes (two hours) divided between 10 candidates (12 minutes per candidate) you will have 90 minutes divided between seven candidates (12.9 minutes per candidate). And unlike a current proposal to have the field draw straws as a way to break into two equal-sized groups, Pick-Up Debate Ball ensures that each of those equal-sized groups will have at least one major candidate to help draw an audience.

Most importantly, Pick-Up Debate Ball would add a layer of strategic decision-making that could give voters insights into how the candidate's mind operate. Imagine the mental gymnastics Donald Trump will undergo deciding if he prefers ABC's Jonathan Karl questioning him or the opportunity to whack into George Pataki for an hour and a half? You could air it on television. People would tune in from around the globe.

Chairman Priebus, I can sense you warming up to the proposal. But you're not quite sold. It seems risky; perhaps a bit sophomoric for a political party. Well, let me provide you a mock draft to illustrate the wonderful possibilities.

Trump (Round 1 pick): George Pataki.
He is the political equivalent of what Adrian Peterson is to fantasy football leagues, only in the inverse.

Carson (Round 1 pick): Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.)

He is the Le’Veon Bell to Pataki’s Peterson.

Trump (Round 2 pick): Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)

Trump would make this selection either to reveal Graham’s cell phone number to an even larger audience or to have a foreign policy contrast.

Carson (Round 2 pick): Jim Gilmore.

Then, after being told that Gilmore still hasn’t qualified for the debates, Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Trump (Round 3 pick): Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)

This is a natural selection for Trump, who loves having Paul as a foil.

Carson (Round 3 pick): Former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.)

Upset that a fellow doctor -- Paul -- is off the board, Carson picks Jeb to have someone with roughly the same energy level on stage with him.

Trump (Round 4 pick): Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio).

Trump wants to once more tell him that fracking rescued his state and his political future.

Carson (Round 4 pick): Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.)

It’s a dangerous pick, for sure. Jindal’s relegation to the undercard debates has hid the potential danger he poses for fellow candidates on the big stage.

Trump (Round 5 pick): Carly Fiorina

Trump risks being accused, once more, of being a crass sexist during a debate. But he decides that if his business record is going to come up in the debate, he'd like to deflect criticism down the podium to the former Hewlett-Packard CEO.

Carson (Round 5 pick): Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)

Having chosen Jeb Bush, Carson decides to bring Rubio to his debate, too. They’ll go at each other, he reasons, leaving him unscathed and above the fray.

Trump (Round 6 pick): Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)

Trump is no dummy. Cruz has been playing nice to him for months now. He’s shocked the senator fell into his lap in Round 6. But he’ll gladly take him.

Carson (Round 6 pick): Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.).

Unlike playground basketball, there is glory, not shame, in being the last pick in Pick-Up Debate Ball. Congrats, governor.

Final debate groupings:

Group 1: Carson, Santorum, Huckabee, Bush, Jindal, Rubio, Christie.

Group 2: Trump, Pataki, Paul, Graham, Kaisch, Fiorina, Cruz.

Now, Chairman Priebus, I know what you’re thinking. Why did you pay lawyers and aides at the RNC the thousands upon thousands of dollars to come up with a debate structure that failed, when this brilliant idea was right there?

I don’t know the answer to that.

All I know is that, I’m happy to give you Pick-Up Debate Ball for a fee much smaller than anything you paid to put together the current system. Just have The Huffington Post moderate one round. What a steal!

Sincerely yours,

Sam Stein


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