Trail To The Chief: Fixing The 2016 GOP Debates Edition

Fixing The 2016 GOP Debates Edition

In the past few weeks, the media has been tracking what appeared to be a looming problem for the Republican presidential primary: The number of people who are either participating in the nominating contest or are threatening to do so has reached double digits. Normally, having an abundance of choice is not a bad thing, and a GOP field that includes Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal and Marco Rubio would be the most diverse group the party has ever fielded.

What's the problem? Well, they only make debate stages so big, you guys, and it looks like there aren't any onto which the potentially huge Republican field might fit. (The Democrats have, perhaps, the opposite problem: too few candidates. So, if you're hanging around outside one of their debates, look sharp -- you might get collared by a producer and drafted into participating, who knows?)

On Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland, Fox News will host the first of what will be at least six GOP primary debates. By that time, there could be anywhere between 12 and 18 people running to be the Republican presidential standard-bearer. There's never been a primary debate with more than 10 participants, and even if it was possible to jam all the competitors on the stage, Hollywood Squares-style, there's still a finite amount of time to split among the people vying for attention.

In order to craft a solution, someone has to set a standard -- and this was something the RNC was loathe to do, lest the agreed-to metric forced their heavy hand to limit the aforementioned diversity of the field. So, they're leaving it up to the media organizations to play the role of executioner. This week Fox News established that it would only allow candidates who are in the top 10, after the five polls conducted closest to the debate are tallied and averaged, to debate. As we reported earlier this week, that standard currently eliminates Jindal, Fiorina and Lindsey Graham, should they all choose to run.

Fox has promised to find other ways to accommodate those who don't qualify for the debate. But the truth is, being left off the stage will be a serious, perhaps even fatal, detriment for candidates, many of whom might really need a debate appearance to introduce themselves to the electorate. And those left out will definitely raise a hue and cry over it. After all, anyone who polls in the low single digits the August before the Iowa caucus imagines themselves to merely be a temporarily embarrassed frontrunner.

Life isn't fair. And, as we already said, there has to be a standard. But can we do better? This week, we here at Trail To The Chief put our heads together and tried to come up with as many ways as we could to create a debate format that would accommodate this large group and give everyone an equitable shot. Some of our solutions are sublime. Many are ridiculous. You might have an idea that's even better. If so, do share!

1 THE PLAY-IN DEBATEAdopt the March Madness approach to obscure teams from small conferences: Make them "play-in" to the tournament. Instead of having the first debate with 10 to 12 people, give a "bye week" to the top four to six candidates in the polls -- they're already doing OK -- and have the candidates at the bottom of the poll averages debate. If their performance boosts their poll standing, they get to play in the next debate. If they don't, they're out of luck.
2 BRACKET OF DEBATESGo full March Madness, with one-on-one brackets ranked by poll rating. So, for example, Jeb Bush might have to debate George Pataki. On the assumption that anyone cares what Pataki says.
3 THE ADVISER DEBATEEliminate the middleman. Send your top policy person and see how few people will tune in for a debate among the people who actually put the ideas in the blow-dried heads and loquacious mouths of the candidates.
4 RELEASE QUESTIONS AHEAD OF TIMEEnhance the blowhardness of it all by letting Beltway pundits debate the debatable before the candidates do.
5 JERRY LEWIS TELETHON DEBATESpeaking time depends on how much money candidates raise during the debate. Billionaires buy time for their favorite politicians in real time -- the more they give you, the longer you get to talk. This means Sheldon Adelson will end up facing off with the Koch brothers. Hopefully they will all spend all of their own money.
6 LIGHTNING ROUND: THE 15-SECOND RESPONSESound biting the sound bites -- buzzer included. Think Lincoln-Douglas meets Alex Trebek meets Wolf Blitzer's attention span.
7 TWITTER/PERISCOPE/SNAPCHAT DEBATEJust have them tweet or film passive-aggressive responses at each other, the nastiest being those that disappear in 24 hours.
8 DITCH THE MODERATOR, 'THE WEST WING' STYLENo refs, no clocks, no monitors, no rules. Just let the candidates descend into a pure Hobbsean state of brutal nature in full-throttle attack mode -- with the only oversight coming in the form of a security team that can contain the inevitable brawl. Cue the "Anchorman" fight scene.
9 ELIMINATION DEBATEEvery time a candidate fudges the truth, they're out. Shortest debate -- and shortest campaign -- in history.
10 NFL-STYLE DEBATEMore referees, more instant replay and more underinflated candidates. It's a debate that most people will watch for the commercials and the halftime show.
11 'WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE?' DEBATEWho Wants to Be President? We'll determine that by game show rules, and we'll find out who each candidate would call if they needed a lifeline. Is that their final answer? They won’t know until they consult the next day's polls.
12 THE RIDDLE-ME-THIS DEBATEInstead of inviting everyone to a debate with some sort of "save the date" card, pose to every candidate a series of complicated riddles, the solving of which would reveal the time and place of the debate. This will weed out the especially obtuse.
13 THE HUNGER GAMES DEBATEEveryone just fights each other to the death, in fancy costumes designed by the House Of Gaultier.

Photos: Getty, Associated Press