By John LeBoutillier, Special for USDR
State of the 2016 Race
A column for The Hill analyzing the current state of the 2016 presidential race.
The key to the 2016 race for the GOP presidential nomination may be the early debates:
1. Soon, the entire focus of the 2016 Republican presidential nominating contest will be on the early August to September debates. Already Fox and ABC — the networks carrying the first two debates — have announced that they will limit the stage to 10 candidates based on the average of the five most recent national polls.
2. Watch for some severe complaining about this from the campaigns. There may be up to 20 announced candidates by then, which will mean 10 unhappy campaigns.
3. And — also — watch for several candidates to mount a last-minute attempt to jack up their poll ratings nationally in order to get onto that stage; this may include spending some money on a national ad buy or making some almost-outrageous comments that will bring them free media attention.
4. As of today, the polls are so close that all it will take is a point or two to go from not being in the debate to being on that stage with an opportunity to talk to a huge TV audience.
5. Let me editorialize here for a moment: Why limit these early debates to 10? Why not have a “debate-off”?
6. A debate-off could work like this: on a Monday night, 10 randomly selected GOP candidates — out of the 20 expected to run — debate on TV; the next night, the other 10 debate.
7. After these two nights, online voters vote for five from each night; those 10 finalists then debate on a third night.
8. This way, all of the candidates get exposure and an equal shot at showing their wares to the American people.
9. Or here is a different alternative: Once Fox and ABC have made their “cut,” why doesn’t some other TV network set up a runners-up debate for the 10 who didn’t get selected?
10. The point is: These debates — based on the 2012 race — are a huge point of movement in the primary campaign.
11. Now, let us get to the actual content of these early debates, and how that might impact the race.
12. Based on the 2012 experience, the candidates who did best in those debates were those who weren’t afraid to “bust the format” and take on the moderator.
13. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) — whose campaign was perpetually broke — was the star of these debates and used them to power himself all the way through South Carolina.
14. Who will “hijack” these early debates and emerge as a star?
15. Will it be Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who since his Princeton University days has been a great debater?
16. Will it be former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who has gained some momentum in Iowa? Or will she not even be in these debates as her national numbers do not mirror her rise in Iowa?
17. Will the 10 who made the cut be so happy just to be on the stage that they will be afraid to gamble it all away by being too “out there” in these early debates?
18. With 10 candidates on the stage — and a two-hour debate — and 120 minutes minus introductions, commercial breaks and the questioners yakking, how much time will each of the 10 really have to make an impact? Maybe nine to 10 minutes spread out over these two hours?
19. So that means a candidate has nine or 10 minutes to say something provocative and interesting so as to stand out from the other nine candidates. That is not going to be an easy task.
20. Plus, there will be the attacks. Look for Cruz to go after former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) all for flip-flopping on “amnesty” — i.e., the pathway to citizenship. He’s going to do it, and each better quickly right his own ship on this or get blasted by the right.
21. By the way, what do the 10 who lost out do during these debates — just watch on TV like everyone else? Or do they pull some media event to boost their name ID? They’re all serious political people who might lose out by a point or two — and must really chafe at not being included in these debates. Maybe some of them will do something to get attention.
22. For example, as of today, some prominent, major league politicians would not make the cut: the governors of Ohio, New Jersey and Louisiana wouldn’t make it. Nor would the former three-term Republican governor of New York, George Pataki.
23. Does it make any political sense to cut these folks out of this thing right at the start?
24. Why not figure a way to give them all a shot — early on — and then, if they are boring or incapable of cutting through the clutter, then they’re out. But at least give them a shot to speak to America in one of these early debates.
25. My worry is that so many candidates means that no one will be able to separate himself or herself sufficiently from the pack. And that pack will itself become a negative Republican entity filled with acrimony and personal arguments that will make it that much more difficult to win in November.
LeBoutillier is a former Republican congressman from New York and is the co-host of “Political Insiders” on Fox News Channel, Sunday nights at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. He writes semi-regular pieces in the Contributors section on the “State of the 2016 Race.”