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May 19, 2015

How To Solve The Crowded GOP Debate Stage Problem

At last count everyone who has ever held office as a Republican is running for President. This creates a problem for the RNC, which had hoped to stage manage a nice clean set of debates followed by a quick primary season.

Best laid plans and all of that.

So now everyone is worried about how you fit 12-15 (or more) candidates on a stage and give them enough time to make it worth while. I mean, what can you glean from a candidate who has maybe 3 minutes total over the course of a two hour debate to trade barbs with other candidates and the moderators?

There are lots of solutions being proposed from limiting the field (which is tough since polling is so close and even candidates with almost no support are relatively accomplished figures with some following/notoriety) to ditching the moderators and letting the scrum sort itself out to just rolling with big fields.

Here's my idea: Kill the debates.

These are not debates in any sense of the word. Even in the no-moderator format it's just going to be a bunch of people trying to one up each other with quips that will make the cable news shows and if they are lucky get played on Rush Limbaugh.

So what to do? Candidate forums. Just bring out each candidate and let them respond to two or three questions from a panel of conservative journalists and/or policy experts. Jim DeMint hosted one of these on Labor Day 2011 to great effect. There's no reason it can't be replicated.

You'd still have time constraints but I'd rather have someone like Rand Paul, Rick Perry or Scott Walker, spend 3-5 minutes straight answering a handful of questions with the spotlight on them than the Gong Show type spectacles we've seen the last few go rounds.

Since the candidates wouldn't be responding to each other, you could then break the field up and hold the events over two nights. It wouldn't matter who got to go night one or night two since there wouldn't be any group dynamic to even out. Do a couple of rounds of these and you'll really see the candidates in action. You can go back to the tradition nonsense or the moderatorless format once the field starts to thin out.

If cable networks didn't want to devote this much time, ditch them. There are plenty of ways to reach even the non-base voters that don't involve CNN. But I think they'd be open to it because it's not like they are going to have any Democratic debates to show. There's no way Hillary agrees to the same number as we saw in 2008 or even as many as the GOP has already agreed to.

Either treat these events as a real opportunity to see how the people who want to be President respond to questions conservatives care about or ditch them entirely. Just please spare us the clown shows.


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posted by DrewM. at 11:49 AM

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