Why the field for the next GOP debate should have been even smaller

About half this many candidates in the primetime debate would be much better. (AP Photo / Chris Carlson)

About half this many candidates in the primetime debate would be much better. (AP Photo / Chris Carlson)

Fox Business Network announced the candidates who made the two stages for the next GOP debate, which it will televise next Tuesday night, and the only problem I see is that the cuts didn’t go deep enough.

Instead of 10 candidates in the primetime debate, there will be eight. Instead of everyone else qualifying for the “kids table” debate beforehand, three of the candidates (George Pataki, Lindsey Graham and Jim Gilmore) will have to watch all the festivities on TV like the rest of us. That leaves four in the undercard, with Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee being relegated from the top group.

The thresholds for qualifying were averages of 2.5 percent (primetime) and 1 percent (kids table) in four recent, national polls. That apparently includes rounding up to the nearest percentage point, since both Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum averaged only 0.5 percent. Perhaps that was an effort to keep the undercard from being a two-man show between Christie and Huckabee, but I’d have solved that by setting the primetime threshold at 3 percent, with no rounding. That would have pushed John Kasich and Rand Paul down into the lower group, cut Jindal and Santorum altogether — and resulted in two much better debates.

Having only eight on the main stage is an improvement. But a top tier of only six — in descending order of polling position: Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina — would have been a much more manageable grouping and an even better chance to get into substance. The “two-hour” CNBC debate (which actually dragged on a little longer) included 84.5 minutes of speaking time for the candidates. That’s an average of about 8.5 minutes apiece, though actual the individual times ranged was 6:22 to 10:13. Divided by eight candidates, that average grows to 10.5 minutes — better, but still not great. But divided among six, it would have been more than 14 minutes each. That finally would have given each candidate enough time to really dig into the issues; witness how both the sole Democratic debate, with five candidates, and each GOP undercard debate, with four to six candidates, have been deemed more substantive than the primetime GOP debates. It’s not the candidates, and it isn’t even mostly the moderating (which has been adequate in two of the three debates). It’s the format.

For the next debate, I hope to see no more than four or five candidates on the main stage — even if that means leaving out a name as big as Jeb Bush. We are at the point where voters deserve to see more substance, and where candidates should have earned the chance to give it to them.

Reader Comments 0

32 comments
ATLAquarius
ATLAquarius

It's to their detriment to continue to include so many in the name of "fairness"....at a certain point the candidates will have to field "tough" questions that require more than sound bites and display actual thought process on policy approach....hopefully that will happen before the actual primaries 

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

Shouldn't the RNC control how many candidates are in the debate?If it was up to the cable news network, the more candidates the bigger the ratings.

Switters
Switters

I think it would be a mistake to cut Kasich.I could care less about political party affiliation .(I'm 39 and I have "won" exactly one presidential election in my life… do the math). I can't imagine voting for Hillary.I definitely won't vote for Trump, Carson, and Cruz… and America won’t as well. A vote for Trump, Carson, and Cruz is a vote for Hillary.As a CEO Fiorina was a train wreck.That leaves Rubio (very junior) and Jeb! (his name really hurts). I would vote for Bush or Rubio but I wouldn't feel great about it. Kyle, is there really no hope for Kasich??If he was the nominee I think he could win… I agree it's a long shot but I would like to hear him out.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Switters I think he is (one of a few people) well-positioned to be the running mate.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I don't think the top candidates WANT to have time to "dig in" to the specifics of their ideas.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Wascatlady I might agree about Trump. I'd very much disagree about Bush; he wants more time to talk, not less.

Tallulah
Tallulah

AJC's "conservative columnist?" Isn't that an oxymoron?

332-206
332-206

Kyle Wingfield Debate Rules: Good.

Republican Party Debate Rules: Not so much.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

OT Kyle


After the paywall comes up I most likely wont be here


Do you think Richt should stay ? Personally I think 15 years is long enough. Its time for fresh blood. 


Richt is a fine man but I just don't see that fire in him to win anymore.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Hedley_Lammar I have pretty much lost faith in him as a coach who could lead us to championships. I can come up with excuses for why this year's team has underperformed, but who else should get the blame when he's been here 15 years?

I don't like the possibility we could go through a prolonged down period a la Tennessee, Alabama, USC, Oklahoma, ND and so many others over the years (and UGA from late Dooley through Goff and Donnan). But I don't like falling short of expectations every single year, either. I used to think he could still get it done. I don't anymore.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

I'm wary of chopping candidates without any voting having occurred. I think I'd actually prefer debates with a random mix of five candidates garnering a minimum of 1% in the polls. The next debate would be the five who weren't in the previous debate.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@LilBarryBailout That's a pretty good idea.  Polling has shown to be relatively useless at this point. 

Having 5 or 6 candidates in one debate, then 5 or 6 in the next debate, then 5 or 6 in another debate. This should give each candidate a better chance to explain how they are qualified to lead the nation. 


It seems that over 6 candidates in a single debate the messages are down to stump messages and little actual debate. 

bu2
bu2

@LilBarryBailout I liked the idea of splitting into two evenly sized groups randomly.  So that would give two groups of 6.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

Is it fair to ask Carson if Joseph really built the Pyramids to store grain ? Or would that be considered a "gotcha" question ?

Classof98
Classof98

The point isn't to avoid gotcha questions. The point is to avoid moderators who have an agenda to intentionally make all candidates on the dais look bad.

When the Democratic National Committee agrees to have one of their debates moderated by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter, then you might understand.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Hedley_Lammar It depends on how you ask it. If John Harwood (or one of the other CNBC moderators) had asked, "Dr. Carson, you're a brain surgeon. Are you really dumb enough to believe Joseph built the pyramids?" that would not only be hostile but unlikely to enlighten us on anything.

But if someone used that example to ask him to explain where he draws the line between scientific opinion and religious belief, or when the public should be skeptical of science, or whether he'd be guided as president by his personal theories or the advice of experts -- those would be perfectly legitimate approaches.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Kyle_Wingfield @Hedley_Lammar In other words he would be allowed to say "that is my faith" and leave it at that. 


As a follow up I would ask him if he would allow those beliefs to guide his thinking as President. 

For example would he consider scientific evidence of climate change ? Or would he dismiss it, preferring a biblical interpretation ?


Would that be fair ?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Hedley_Lammar "In other words he would be allowed to say "that is my faith" and leave it at that. "

I think he'd be more likely to offer that answer to the hostile question. Which is why I said we wouldn't learn anything from it -- the biggest problem with the way CNBC handled the debate.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Hedley_Lammar "It DOES matter."

Which is why it's a legitimate point to explore. All I want is for the person asking the question to do so in a way that illuminates Carson's thinking -- to see how much farther he might take it -- rather than simply ridiculing it, from which we'd probably learn nothing.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Kyle_Wingfield @Hedley_Lammar Fair enough


Personally I cant dismiss it. I think many Americans will feel the same. Some will say why is that important.


But if you truly believe Joseph built the pyramids you are far more likely to believe a snowball disproves climate change.


It DOES matter. 

yourstrulyGA
yourstrulyGA

@Classof98 The CNBC crew was just playing its role in the acknowledged farce that the Republican "debate" has become. Most viewers watch this train wreck for entertainment. No one expects Trump or Carson (or most of the rest of them) to be capable of uttering anything intelligent or relevant to the presidential race.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

If we recall the GOP autopsy of the 2012 elections, one of the items was "fewer candidates".  Nope, nobody listened to that one. There is just too much available campaign money to try to catch.  A much better narrow field would definitely help the Republican candidates differentiate themselves from each other.  The only problem is that most of them are tripping over themselves playing to the far-right base in the primary that they will need to strongly pivot to the middle in the actual election.  Only a current moderate will likely be able to pull that off. 

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

The GOP field for the next debate should be reduced to a size where it can be drowned in a bathtub. In my opinion.

And as for pushing Kasich down, he's the only person in the field capable of winning in the general. You cons!

Dr. Irving
Dr. Irving

"Guy who's going to vote D gives R's advice for nominee. Invaluable". Well, apparently someone needs to give them some advice...  The Republican "autopsy" was full of good advice and it has been soundly ignored.  Maybe they will listen to a "D"...


@Kyle_Wingfield @Eye wonder 

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

@Kyle_Wingfield @Eye wonder

You have a direct line into my brain such that you know that I'll vote D?  Here's the deal, Kyle - I would actually vote for Kasich over Hillary.  But there's no way in hell I'd vote for any of the other clowns, entertainers or plain idiots currently in the running for the R nomination.  There's a lesson in there for you and the GOP. Will you / they learn it?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Eye wonder "You have a direct line into my brain such that you know that I'll vote D?"

No, but I've been reading your comments here for some time ...

It seems to me that folks like you have a habit of saying you'd vote for the moderate in the GOP field *who has no chance of winning*, just not the moderate who ends up winning. (I don't think anyone can really dispute that Romney was more moderate than everyone in the race but Huntsman, and that McCain was more moderate than, well, everyone but Romney.)

There's no risk in saying you'd vote for Kasich, just as there was no risk in saying you'd have voted for Huntsman. It's as if I said I'd have voted for Jim Webb over (fill in the blank Republican). There's zero chance of that happening. But I could do it to burnish my "independent" credentials in a totally meaningless way.

Sorry for the diatribe, but you're hardly the first person to make such an empty statement around here.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Dr. Irving "soundly ignored"

By my count, there were 218 recommendations, some of which (see the debates and primaries section) clearly were put into place. I'd like to see you demonstrate that the others were ignored, soundly or otherwise, by every candidate in the race: http://goproject.gop.com/

Dr. Irving
Dr. Irving

@Dr. Irving  Yeah--you are right Kyle, the autopsy results were soundly accepted and the suggestions enacted by the entire Republican Convention and "practically all" candidates in the race.  Let's go with that.  Good luck in 2016. 

Dr. Irving
Dr. Irving

@Kyle_Wingfield @Dr. Irving The Republican candidates shouldn't have any problems attracting minorities, women, gays or non-fundamental Christian religious folks to vote for them. It'll be a shoe-in across the board!!