Kall: Smaller stage will produce better GOP nominee
Ohio Gov. John Kasich recently became the latest Republican to officially jump into 2016 presidential race, ensuring the largest field of primary candidates in some time. With the first GOP debate in Cleveland next week, there has been much controversy about the participation criteria established by the Republican National Committee and its media partners for the first two debates, Fox News and CNN. Despite the size of the Republican primary field, limiting the stage to the top 10 candidates will produce the best quality debates and allow GOP voters to make the most well-informed decision.
Most Republican presidential debates during the 2012 cycle were about 90 minutes in length. In order to keep the attention span of the audience, the maximum duration of any debate should never exceed two hours. When factoring in opening/closing statements and commercials, a stage of the top 10 candidates would yield each speaker about 10 minutes of airtime. Ideally, all candidates would get a crack at answering the same questions so the voters can properly compare and contrast the agendas of all the participants. Narrowing the amount of debaters increases the autonomy of the moderators to ask follow-up questions and assists them in trying to promote clash among the top tier of candidates and biggest rivalries that are present on the stage.
In order to properly balance the rapidly expanding field of Republican presidential candidates with finite space on a stage, Fox News and CNN have proposed candidate forums and second-tier debates on identical dates as the main event. While these may be viewed as worthy consolation prizes by some, they are unlikely to have a major impact on the viewing public and outcome of the race. They may even be a disservice to the prime time candidates and moderators of the events.
The 2012 GOP presidential debate cycle was a big mess. There were way too many debates, they weren’t spaced out properly, and too few states were allowed to host them. Republican candidates took pledges, raised hands and were forced into an ideologically sharp political corner.
The Republican National Committee has learned from these past mistakes and through their partnerships with media outlets developed the proper criteria for determining which candidates will participate under the bright lights of the main debate stage. Using this transparent established criteria to limit the field of top tier candidates will produce both the best debates and the top Republican presidential candidate.
Aaron Kall is director of debate at the University of Michigan and University of Michigan Debate Institutes.