In 2012, GOP candidates went through a brutal number of 23 debates during the election cycle. Because that’s too many opportunities to look like an ass on television, the RNC was able to scale back the number of debates for 2016 to a dozen by agreeing to a framework with networks and candidates. However, there is a new problem facing the upcoming events. There are too many GOP candidates (possibly 17), and they all can’t fit on one stage. That is why networks and the RNC are currently involved in talks to narrow the field.
Largely out of view, executives and journalists from Fox and CNN, with input from the national party, are weighing the entrance criteria for the first two debates. Among the options being considered is using polling as a rough inclusionary test, followed by a fundraising metric—dollars raised or the number of individual donors activated. All of these things are in flux as the networks and the national party struggle with the largest plausible debate field in history.
Candidates like Carly Fiorina might have a hard time getting invited, and if they aren’t at that first debate they should call it quits. People want to see real candidates, not wannabe politicians looking for publicity during what they thought would be free and easy air-time. That’s right I said it. Carly Fiorina was the CEO at Hewlett-Packard, so it is fair to assume she is smart enough to know she can’t win.
Donald Trump doesn’t have a shot either, but the RNC might set it up to make sure he is involved in the debates. Supposedly he has some good dirt that the GOP would prefer to not come out during the 2016 election cycle.
There’s also the matter of Donald Trump. The reality television star has formed a presidential exploratory committee but has yet to officially declare himself a candidate for the White House. Should he do so, many Republican insiders say it would be hard for the party to exclude him—voters find him entertaining and he has a large megaphone with which he could embarrass the GOP. “This sounds crazy, but it’s safer to just include him,” said one 2016 presidential aide.
It certainly is crazy.