What the 12/15 debate could have been.

It’s almost that time again.  We’re now just a few days removed from the next GOP “debate,”  in Vegas on 12/15.  Hosting duties are back with CNN.  The good news is that we won’t have to put up with Tapper’s goading questions which, intentionally or not, have the effect of drawing Trump into every single question.  The bad news is that, instead, CNN will inflict Wolf Blitzer on us.

I kid (well, not really).

No, the bad news I want to write about is the opportunity CNN missed to help bring order to the primary.  It’s no longer “still early” in this race.  In both 2008 and 2012, the 30 days from mid-December to mid-January is when the races got real.  This time in 2008, it looked as though Giuliani *might* have managed to stop his slide, posting a solid 27% in a 12/16 Gallup/USA Today poll.  Huckabee continued his surge, overtaking McCain for 2nd place.  That impression was wrong;  Giuliani’s strong result was just a blip.  By mid-January, he was 4th, with Romney 3rd, and Huckabee still in 2nd.  During those 30 days, McCain moved from 3rd to 1st, and would not look back.

Early-to-mid December in 2012, Newt Gingrich was riding high, benefiting from strong debate performances, marked by strident media criticism (well, it seemed strong at the time. I think Cruz, Rubio, and Christie took it to a new level last month).  A month later, he was breathing Romney’s exhaust, trying (not always successfully) to hold off Santorum for 2nd.

Short version: the next 30 days are big, and there’s no use pretending it’s still “silly season.”


CNN had every right to raise the bar for the December 15 debate.  Although they raised it slightly, I’d argue it should have been raised higher.  CNN’s rules allow all candidates with national numbers >= 3.5% *AND* all candidates with at least 4% in *EITHER* Iowa or New Hampshire.

I can understand not wanting to exclude candidates who have been focused on early votes, and who are doing better in IA or NH than they are doing nationally.  But 4% is silly.  If you’re staking your candidacy on NH (or IA), 4% is failing.  If IA is make-or-break, and only 1 in 25 Iowans is supporting you, that’s failing.

CNN could have stuck with the same approach, but upped the numbers to 4% nationally, with an in-clause for 8% in either NH or IA.  That doesn’t seem draconian.  Setting the bars there would actually result in a tidy, 4 or 5-candidate debate.  Think of that when we inevitably end up with another stage littered with 8-9 candidates, with some more concerned about their own financial gain than about seriously winning the presidency.

The path not taken: 4% – 8% thresholds

1. Trump (clears all 3)
2. Cruz (clears all 3)
3. Rubio (clears all 3)
4. Carson (clears 2, likely fails NH)
…and that’s about it, with the possible exceptions of
5? Kasich (on the knife’s edge in NH), and
6? Christie (not there yet in NH, but climbing).

Sorry, Jeb!* — I don’t see anything wrong with that.  In fact, I see a whole lot *right* with that.

*and Carly and everyone else still hanging around.