I wrote recently about ways the Republican presidential debates could be made less of a sound-bite circus. CNN and Fox, which will broadcast the first two debates, think they've found the answer by limiting participation to candidates who place in the top 10 in polling prior to the debates. Bad idea. Even 10 is too many people to pay attention to at once. And in the early rounds, everybody should have a shot. Says Stuart Rothenberg:
Clearly, any effort to limit the field will generate complaints and criticism. But any approach that limits the field so early in the race, at least five months before the first contest involving voters, seems inherently unfair. And using national polls to select participants in early debates seems odd when the first few actual tests of strength involve small, retail politics states such as Iowa and New Hampshire.
After all, we are talking about the first debate or the first couple of debates, not the fifth. Each candidate can rightly argue he or she deserves to be in the first few debates, since those televised events will be the first time many Republican voters will have the opportunity to evaluate and compare the candidates.
The obvious answer is to divide the field in half, randomly assigning individual hopefuls to one of the two debates. Of course, not everyone will like the group he or she is in, and the makeup of each group would determine the particular dynamic of that debate.
After a couple of debates, the hosts of additional debates will have just cause to limit the number of debaters. But doing so in the first couple of debates is inherently unfair and could end up damaging the party’s image. You’d think that that would be something the RNC would want to avoid.
And I'd still like to see something creative and original when the field gets narrowed to four candidates.