The Republican Party suffers from an embarrassment of riches. It has too many really swell candidates for president.
It has so many candidates, both those who have announced and those still stacked up in a holding pattern, that the TV networks do not know how to squeeze them all onto the same stage for the debates.
Fox News has said it will allow only 10 candidates to debate Aug. 6, even though the number of announced candidates may be twice that number by then.
But Fox has come up with a fair and balanced formula for picking the 10. Five national polls will be averaged, and the top 10 finishers will be allowed to debate.
Fox News Executive Vice President Michael Clemente told Politico’s Dylan Byers: “If there is an apparent tie for 10th place, we will examine the more granular data to determine who is ahead. If it’s an absolute tie, we will add” a lectern.
Baloney. Never gonna happen. You think you can just add a lectern without all the lighting people and the sound people and the floor managers going nuts?
And I do not trust people who use the word “granular.” Most do not know the difference between granular and Grape-Nuts.
The CNN folks, on the other hand, have gotten crafty and decided to have two groupings of debates, one for the “smart” candidates and one for the “slow” candidates. That’s my interpretation, anyway. The official CNN criteria are just this side of gibberish.
“The first 10 candidates — ranked from highest to lowest in polling order from an average of all qualifying polls released between July 16 and September 10 who satisfy the criteria requirements . . . will be invited to participate in ‘Segment B’ of the Sept. 16, 2015, Republican Presidential Primary Debate,” says the network. “Candidates who satisfy the criteria and achieve an average of at least one percent in three national polls, but are not ranked in the top 10 of polling order will be invited to participate in ‘Segment A’ of the Sept. 16, 2015, Republican Presidential Primary Debate.”
Have you got that? Really? Keep in mind that we are dealing with some candidates who think the earth was created less than 10,000 years ago and that icebergs are being destroyed by too many polar bears trying to crowd on top of them. You think they are going to figure out this formula?
Actually, I think the networks are worrying about nothing. In the olden days, when TV stations were clever, they stacked people. Both “The Brady Bunch” and “Hollywood Squares” stacked nine people on a single screen, and the screens were often only 19 inches big.
Today 60-inch TV screens are commonplace. Think how many people you could stack! All you would have to do is lift the candidates into place by using cranes. And to save money, you could leave them in place and just move the whole set from city to city.
The Republican Party has sanctioned a minimum of nine and a maximum of 12 primary debates. In the 16 major debates in 2012, Debate Stats.com says, some 1,047 questions were asked, for an average of about 65 questions per debate.
When there were only eight candidates debating, that amounted to about eight questions on average for each debater.
But how about if there are 16 debaters or 24? You could barely ask them anything after subtracting all the introductions and closing statements and rebuttals. And gaffes! You have to save time for gaffes! And the stunned laughter that follows.
In 1976, Bob Dole squared off against Walter Mondale in a vice presidential debate in Houston.
Dole was nervous — he hated debating — and some aide made the mistake of giving him the very worst advice you can give a candidate: “Just be yourself.”
The public doesn’t want you, however. It wants an idealized replica of you, a fantasy of you. That’s why debates are theatrical productions.
But Dole went out onstage and said: “I figured up the other day, if we added up the killed and wounded in Democrat wars in this century, it’d be about 1.6 million Americans — enough to fill the city of Detroit.”
The audience was stunned. And Mondale pulled off a coup by asking Dole whether he really meant to say the war to defeat Nazi Germany was a Democratic war.
Afterward, Dole was philosophical. “I went for the jugular,” he said. “My own.”
“But what about the Democrats in 2016?” you might ask. Well, this time, the only primary candidate who can defeat Hillary Clinton is Hillary Clinton.
Which may be enough.
Roger Simon’s new e-book, “Reckoning: Campaign 2012 and the Fight for the Soul of America,” can be found on Amazon.com, BN.com and iTunes.