Will Fox News and the RNC fix their debate conundrum? The pressure is building

The solution to overcrowded debates has presented itself. Are the debate caps on their way out?

Published June 11, 2015 11:59AM (EDT)

Donald Trump                                                (Reuters/Chris Keane)
Donald Trump (Reuters/Chris Keane)

Important thing to keep in mind about Republican Party officials: They pretty much do whatever Salon Dot Com tells them to do. They can't tell you this because it would upset their base, so they have to pretend to not care about us -- or even treat us as the enemy. Politics is very political. But all Republican officials absolutely pull up Salon Dot Com first thing each morning and scour for instruction about how they should run their whacko political party. Well, maybe.

Last month we suggested that the debate "caps" imposed by the RNC's debate media partners didn't work well for anyone. The Republican base hates the Republican establishment and views moves like cutting low-polling candidates from the debates as heavy-handedness. And because polling is an imperfect measurement of candidate quality, capping the debates at ten participants means that certain figures the RNC might like to see on stage -- John Kasich, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham -- wouldn't make the cut, while certain... "characters" like Donald Trump would. Worse yet: the debate caps serve to ratchet up the competition to quickly boost name-recognition ahead of the first debate in August. Name-recognition is boosted quickly only through debasing stunts that may not portray the GOP in the most statesmanlike light.

It was Salon and Salon alone* that came up with the elusive** solution that would satisfy Fox News & CNN: Split the debate into two sessions of equal size and select the participants for each by lottery. Everyone gets in and there's no demeaning "kid's table" debate for the candidates outside the top ten in national polling averages.

Officials in the New Hampshire Republican Party have run with Salon's exclusive* idea and sent an open letter to Fox News and the RNC (same thing) "requesting changes to Fox's plan to limit its Aug. 6 debate in Cleveland to the top 10 candidates in an average of the five latest national polls," Bloomberg reports.

The New Hampshire cadre tweaked the Salon proposal* to shore up its one weakness: ensuring that the random draw doesn't randomly select all the high-polling candidates for one debate and low-polling candidates for the other. Instead, the "big dogs" will be split up first, and the rest will be chosen by lottery:

“Divide the debate into two panels to appear back-to-back, either on the same night or consecutive nights;

“From the top six candidates in public polls, randomly draw three to appear during the first session and three to appear in the second session;

“Randomly draw the remaining candidates and split them evenly between the two panels.”

Sounds good and easy and smart and appeasing to all parties. Though there's still one major problem that would remain: one debate would be a debate, while the other debate would just be Donald Trump talking over everyone else for a full hour with no interruption. (Assuming he runs.) (OMG. I'm still not believing it until the FEC papers are signed.) That would work for Fox News, CNN and the other networks, at least. Trump says he should be in the debates because he'd deliver big ratings. On this he is absolutely correct. Donald Trump in a presidential debate!

If I were the RNC and the cable news channels hosting these debates, I'd switch to this format immediately. But I'm not, it's not my problem, what do I care? Just trying to be a Good Samaritan here.


* -- A whole bunch of people had the same idea 

** -- It was really obvious 

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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