The GOP presidential field looks to be the deepest in many years as there are candidates coming out of the woodwork. It’s the time in the cycle when hopefuls make their intentions known, as Scott Walker and Lindsey Graham have done over the last few days.
All these candidates could make for a clunky debate, since an hourlong program with twenty candidates leaves very little time for broad exploration of the issues. And how do you determine who to invite and who to leave out? Right now there’s not just the known candidates, either – according to the FEC, 157 people have filed the necessary paperwork with them to run for president, with some barely waiting until the last election was over to file. I suppose in theory they should be in the debates, too.
But in response to a Facebook post about the prospect of who’s in and who’s shut out of the debates, I came up with a couple ideas I thought worthy of sharing with a wider audience.
Apparently there are 12 pre-primary debates scheduled, and the concern is having too many in the format – so they would use the polls to determine who gets in. To me, this is a problem because polls at this early stage are just name recognition – naturally a Mitt Romney or Jed Bush may poll much better than Walker or Graham, yet both could bring good ideas to the table. For example, Walker has taken a hardline stance against the abuses of Big Labor in government while Graham is a hawk when it comes to radical Islam.
So what I would propose is a debate not based on polls, but who can buy their way in. Anyone who has an exploratory committee or has filed, and can come up with a relatively significant amount – say $50,000 – can be in the debate regardless of poll numbers. (The money would be held in escrow for the eventual nominee.)
But Michael, you say, we would probably get 18 to 20 contenders, including one of those longshots who no one’s ever heard of. Well, the person would get one shot in what would be a series of hourlong debates, held on the same night in groups of 5 to 7, made as numerically equal as possible. Having 18 participants would mean three groups of six; groups which would be drawn at random so that the opening group in debate number 1 would be different the next time, and of course some will drop out or won’t be able to afford another debate.
If you assume the debates are the most important thing for a campaign at this early stage, then they should be open to whoever can afford the spot to get in. And if you complain about the monetary aspect, well, please come up with a better way of proving viability. It keeps the debate field to those who take it seriously and not those who just fill out the FEC paperwork as a lark or for publicity.
Now if we can get good debate moderators, we would be in good shape.