RNC slashes '16 debate schedule, but will that just concentrate the idiocy?

Reince Priebus' RNC is cutting presidential primary debates in half -- but that still means there will be 12

Published January 20, 2015 3:28PM (EST)

Mitt Romney and Rick Perry speak during a Republican presidential debate, July 8, 2013.      (AP/Chris Carlson)
Mitt Romney and Rick Perry speak during a Republican presidential debate, July 8, 2013. (AP/Chris Carlson)

One of the Republican National Committee's top priorities for the 2016 presidential nominating cycle is to limit the amount of exposure its candidates have to the public.

The more the public gets to know members of the Republican field, the worse it is for the Republicans' chances of winning back the White House. The gothic circus death show that was the 2012 Republican presidential primary, in which dingbat after dingbat took turns atop the field until Mitt Romney bopped them each on the head with sacks of cash, humiliated the party heading into the general election. It was funny.

That will not do this time. The RNC has a plan to keep its candidates veiled from the public eye heading into the next cycle: cut the number of debates. It's doable. One can argue that 2012's cycle of 4,756 debates before the Iowa caucuses and then several million per day afterwards was Too Much. So the RNC has decided that it will "only" have 12 debates, with 9 spaced out across the calendar and country and three to be determined.

The party unveiled its preliminary schedule at its winter meeting in San Diego last week:

1. Fox News, August 2015, Ohio

2. CNN, September 2015, California

3. CNBC, October 2015, Colorado

4. Fox Business, November 2015, Wisconsin

5. CNN, December 2015, Nevada

6. Fox News, January 2016, Iowa

7. ABC News, February 2016, New Hampshire

8. CBS News, February 2016, South Carolina

9. NBC/Telemundo, February 2016, Florida

Three additional debates are pending: A Fox News debate in March 2016, a CNN debate in March 2016 and a conservative media debate.

You've got to appreciate how three of them will be broadcast on Fox News and one on Fox Business, but then another will be a "conservative media debate." (Clearly the conservative media debate should be awarded to Salon Dot Com.) The evil liberal network MSNBC will not participate in this year's cycle, alas, but Telemundo will half-sponsor one debate. It's in February, so candidates won't have to worry about speaking to non-white people for a while.

So what's to stop the nutballs, who are going to be most in need of exposure to promote themselves at the expense of the party generally, from having their own debates? What if World Net Daily or Alex Jones or Donald Trump puts a debate together and candidates want to participate? Yeah, the RNC thought of that too. It will bar candidates from appearing in these sanctioned debates if they participate in a non-sanctioned debate. If you're Mitt Romney or Jeb Bush, and there's little upside to be had in debating in the first place, maybe it would be wise to participate in a non-sanctioned debate early on? Then you'd have an excuse not to show up at all the other debates and get heckled by Ted Cruz or Ben Carson. Just an idea.

Having Republicans appear on TV is terrible for the Republican party, and it's wise of Reince Priebus & co. to recognize this. But. There are still going to be 12 debates! That's more than enough time for candidates to comprehensively embarrass the party on a national stage, over and over again.

That's the core of the problem. It doesn't matter whether there are 12 debates or 24. The problem is the content of the debates. Having fewer debates just means that the candidates can't spend as much time dilly-dallying; they have to force their extremely offensive talking points about "the illegals" into a tighter time frame. These are professional entertainers and I'm sure they can manage it.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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