The Republican presidential primary is an entertaining mess. Even without injudicious sound-bytes from a handful of candidates, the craziness of this primary season would still be self evident: there are seventeen big-name candidates, and Thursday night the top ten will occupy a single debate stage. Luckily political scientist Larry Sabato has a better idea: split the candidates in half and use a lottery to assign the participants to one of two prime time debates. Dr. Sabato’s proposal is better than the current arrangement, but a more interesting solution is possible.
The first two debates would take place much as Dr. Sabato envisioned. But two additional elements would also be present – real-time competition and final round. Republican and Independent viewers would be encouraged to vote for their favorite candidate via a multi-platform smart phone application. Inescapable drama would develop as voters watched each candidate’s support fluctuate in real time. A week later, the four most popular candidates would meet for a second debate.
The benefits of this novel arrangement are obvious. Engaged Americans would have a meaningful say in the debate process, and four popular candidates would be on national TV twice. Unfortunately, this reform is unlikely to gain traction. Top-tier candidates do not want to share the stage with Don Quixote, while middling candidates will balk at allowing the big names to reach a national audience twice.
Practical difficulties aside, the present debate format must end. Unimaginative debates are bad enough, but debates that feature more candidates than audience members are pointless. Creative young minds need to rewrite the debate template; sound-byte debates need to be replaced with an informative and interesting alternative.