Let's boot Paul, Christie and Huckabee: Fewer go-nowhere candidates would make a better debate

Time to draw the line at 5 percent support. Let Huckabee hustle for email list subscribers in the undercard

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published October 28, 2015 6:25PM (EDT)

  (AP/Chris Carlson)
(AP/Chris Carlson)

The Republican debate is still hours away, but drama has already started between the various campaigns. Chris LaCivita, who works on the Rand Paul campaign, threw a fit on Twitter Tuesday night over the disparities in green room accommodations on offer from CNBC. Candidates that performing well in the polls, like Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, were given nice rooms at the University of Colorado Boulder, but Rand Paul and Chris Christie's campaigns seemed to be sequestered in crappy locker rooms that are basically bathrooms.

LaCivita's fussing worked and the Paul campaign got an upgrade. But the entire incident is illustrative of a larger problem that affects not just the candidates, but the viewers at home trying to make any sense out of the debate. And no, that problem isn't that Paul has a soft enough seat to sit upon while waiting to go live on national television. This whole incident is a reminder that there are just too many damn candidates being allowed in this debate. Of course they're cramming them into bathrooms! The University of Colorado may be big, but it's hard to accommodate so many people all the same.

The too-many-candidates problem made both Republican debates prior to this one a drag to watch at times, especially compared to the livelier Democratic debate that had more discussion in no small part because five people are easier to manage than 10. During the first two debates, the unwieldy number of people---10 in the main debate, 7 in the undercard debate---was unavoidable. Low polling for candidates not named Donald Trump was the norm, and so the only way to be fair was to give everyone a shot at getting their voice heard.

But there's no longer any reason to have any debate with 10 people in it. The candidates have had two debates and a couple of months since the first one to make their case to the voters. If they can't get their polls numbers higher than 5 percent, they don't really deserve a spot in the third debate. Creating a hard floor of 5 percent polling would do wonders to make the debate more interesting, reducing the number of people on stage to six: Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Carly Fiorina. This would also give the public a more realistic idea of what the field actually looks like, without go-nowhere candidates like Rand Paul taking up valuable air time.

Or, if networks can't bear to cut the line like that, there is another option: Put more candidates in the undercard debate. Due to drop-outs, there's only four candidates on stage at the undercard debate tonight. Why not just split the current field in half, putting 7 in the undercard debate and 7 in the main debate? Or hell, why not make it 8 and 6, so that Mike Huckabee can use the undercard debate to hustle for email list subscribers without clogging up the main debate with his presence?

Look, American Idol knows that if you don't whittle down your field of contestants over time, people will start tuning out. Learn from them.

It's too late now for CNBC to make the debates more watchable by ruthlessly cutting the hopeless cases. But there's another Republican debate, this time on Fox, in less than two weeks. Fox should implement this handy, ratings-friendly strategy then. If nothing else, it reduces the amount of whining over green room accommodations.

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By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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