The Republican primary presidential undercard debate–an idea that had some merit at the beginning of the debate cycle has more than run its course and needs to be eliminated before it becomes a parody of itself.
The folly of this debate became more evident this week, when Sen Rand Paul (R-KY) called for the RNC to drop the junior varsity version of the main debate.
“I’m not sure where the purpose is anymore, if there ever was one,” Paul told POLITICO in a telephone interview on Friday. “I think if you have a national campaign, you’ve raised a significant amount of money, you’re on the ballot, you’ve employed staff and you’re actively campaigning, you’ve got to be in the debate.”
Those comments though need to be taken with a grain of salt as Paul feared–rightfully so that he would not make the cut for the main debate stage for the next GOP debate on January 14.
But putting Paul’s own motivation aside, he is right. At least as to what the current purpose is. In the beginning it was a way to give all the candidates a chance for some national TV exposure as the race for the presidency began. After holding two or three of these though the purpose became much murkier as minimum thresholds were imposed to qualify, much like the main debate. Those thresholds–usually 1 percent polling left former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore off the air as he has been stuck at 0 percent.
Now the undercard debate has evolved into just another opportunity for the networks to make a few extra bucks from advertisers and appease reporters and anchors who want to participate in the debate process but aren’t good enough to be selected for the primetime show.
The undercard debate particpants campaigns are barely breathing and all the undercard debate does is provide life support when the plug should have been pulled long ago.
Case in point. Carly Fiorina used the undercard to shine and rose enough in the polls to qualify for the main stage. Now that her polls numbers have dropped and her campaign is flagging she will return to the undercard debate this week in what has to be a humiliating experience. Paul for his part, is boycotting the undercard debate–which he could easily dominate as he ponders when to withdraw from the race after watching his poll numbers plummet.
At this point the RNC should trim the entire debate field and limit the debates to the top five candidates or those polling at least 5 percent nationally–whichever is less and move on to choosing its nominee.
That won’t happen though because RNC Chairman Reince Priebus has his head stuck in the sand and would prefer to see the candidates eliminate themselves rather than take the lead and get the party focused on the best candidates.