The 2016 GOP presidential field is going to be huge, and it is going to feature current and former governors, senators, entrepreneurs, and even a retired neurosurgeon. The problem? There are simply going to be too many candidates to fit on one stage.
The RNC, understandably, doesn't want the debates to turn into a circus, and the cable networks simply want to air debates that can get past opening introductions and more than a couple of questions. Since the RNC will not set inclusion rules, the networks did it for them.
"[Fox News] will require contenders to place in the top 10 in an average of the five most recent national polls in the run-up to the event, narrowing what is expected to be a field of 16 or more by the Aug. 6 event in Cleveland," The Washington Post reports.
"Meanwhile, CNN laid out a different approach for the second debate on Sept. 16, which will be split into two parts — one featuring the top 10 candidates in public polling and a second that will include lower-tiered candidates who garner at least 1 percent in polls." - The Washington Post, May 20, 2015
Candidates considered long-shots, like Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, and former Texas Governor Rick Perry will be forced to step up their efforts early in order to boost their numbers in national polls. Fiorina and Carson have already officially announced their candidacy. Perry is expected to announce in June.
"A number of campaigns, speaking on background, are unhappy that the Republican National Committee, which decided to insert itself into the debate process early on by limiting the number of debates and spacing them out, appears to have kicked to the networks the more difficult and consequential issue of who participates."
Here's the thing, though. The RNC is content enough to allow 10 candidates on the debate stage for primary debates, but at the same time believes 3 or 4 is too many for general election debates, even if a candidate outside the two major parties qualifies in enough states to mathematically have a shot at winning.
Several Republican candidates still have a good chance at getting the exposure they want come August and beyond. CNN won't air everyone on the same stage, but they will have a separate debate for any candidate who can garner at least one percent in national polls. That's not hard to do.
Meanwhile, the Commission on Presidential Debates requires candidates outside the two major parties to poll at 15% and the mainstream media typically ignores these candidates so very few voters know who they are or that they are even running.
In a blog post on Roll Call, Stu Rothenberg says that debate rules for the Republican debates are unfair:
"Clearly, any effort to limit the field will generate complaints and criticism. But any approach that limits the field so early in the race, at least five months before the first contest involving voters, seems inherently unfair. And using national polls to select participants in early debates seems odd when the first few actual tests of strength involve small, retail politics states such as Iowa and New Hampshire. After all, we are talking about the first debate or the first couple of debates, not the fifth. Each candidate can rightly argue he or she deserves to be in the first few debates, since those televised events will be the first time many Republican voters will have the opportunity to evaluate and compare the candidates."
Read the full article here.
But if we are going to talk about fairness in the debate process, let's not only look at debates during the primary season, but during the general election as well. Rothenberg's logic can certainly apply because the major parties' approach to limiting the choices offered to voters is -- using his words -- "inherently unfair."
A few Republican candidates may miss out on some of the debates, but they have a greater chance to be heard than candidates outside the major parties. It is hard to feel sorry for them.