Debate dilemma: How to cull the ’16 Republican herd

    This is more daunting than a Rubik’s cube: How in the world do you fit as many as 18 Republican candidates on one debate stage?

    The GOP has no clue how to do it. At a party confab last weekend, a top official said, “I think there’s a consensus to cap it between 9 and 12,” but another official quickly insisted, “There’s no cap,” thus closing the cap gap. Problem is, if they bar Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina (on the grounds that neither has a prayer of winning), they’ll be called racist and sexist. Problem is, if they bar those who sit low in the polls, the dearth of air time may well ensure that those candidates will stay low in the polls.

    The first debate is slated for Aug. 6. Steve Duprey, the party guy in charge of debate planning, says, “The goal is to have as many credible candidates on stage as possible,” but it looks like they’ll have to share that stage with assorted charlatans, delusional dreamers, and wearers of pinwheel hats. National GOP chairman Reince Priebus recently vowed, “We’re not going to have a circus,” but we’d all be wise to stock up on popcorn.

    Clearly, the debate planners need help. I am here to offer it. I believe the herd can be culled in March Madness fashion, with various early matchups. For instance:

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    The blasphemy bracket. In front of a right-wing audience pre-selected by Fox News, Jeb Bush will repeat his ’14 claim that when immigrant families cross the American border, “it’s not a felony, it’s an act of love.” Then Ohio Gov. John Kasich will defend his state’s expansion of Medicaid coverage via Obamacare. Then Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will again explain why he doesn’t care about social issues like gay marriage (“I don’t talk about it at all”). Then Rick Perry will defend his Texas policy of giving in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants. The candidates who get booed the loudest will be eliminated.

    The batty bracket. Ben Carson will explain his belief that Obamacare is the worst thing since slavery, Rick Santorum will elaborate on the slippery slope that links gay marriage to man-on-dog sex, Mike Huckabee will pitch his cure-diabetes snake oil and quote from his recent email that advertised a Bible cure for cancer, and Ted Cruz will again voice his support for the folks who think that Barack Obama is poised to invade Texas. The candidates who get cheered the least will be eliminated.

    The bloodlust bracket. Who’s most eager to unleash the dogs of war? Lindsey Graham will repeat his recent vow, “If I’m president of the United States and you’re thinking about joining al Qaeda or ISIL – anybody thinking about that? I’m not gonna call a judge. I’m gonna call in a drone and we’re gonna kill you.” But Marco Rubio will repeat his recent remark, “We will look for you. We will find you. And we will kill you.” The candidate who inspires the fewest gun sales will be eliminated.

    The quack bracket. Chris Christie will defend his apparent belief that kids should not necessarily be vaccinated against disease (“Not every vaccine is created equal, and not every disease type is as great a public health threat as others”). He’ll face off with Rand Paul, who will explain why he doesn’t need proof for his recent statement, “I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.” The winner will be chosen by Michele Bachmann, who says that a popular kids’ vaccine causes mental retardation.

    The chutzpah bracket. Bobby Jindal will explain why he deserves to be president, despite a Louisiana budget that’s $1.6 billion in the red, the deepest cuts to higher education of virtually any state, and projected cuts to health care approaching $1 billion. Christie will explain why he’s deserving, despite a record eight credit downgrades and one of the worst job creation records in the nation. Fiorina will explain why she’s deserving, despite a Hewlett-Packard tenure where she laid off 30,000 workers, saw the stock value slashed in half, and prompted the board of directors to kick her out. Donald Trump will explain why he’s deserving, because Donald Trump. The competition to lose this bracket is seriously fierce.

    The random bracket. No podiums for this one, just a police lineup. Random people wearing suits and ties are coaxed off the street to stand with Jim Gilmore, George Pataki, and Bob Ehrlich. The audience is tasked with correctly identifying the former governors of Virginia, New York, and Maryland. In all likelihood, all three will be be overlooked. So that’s three fewer debaters right there.

    Under my system, only a manageable handful will make it to debate night. Then it gets easy. The moderator can merely ask them why, and how fervently, they worship Ronald Reagan. The candidate who triggers the most audience tears is the winner.


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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