Serious organizations should host debates with smart, aggressive people asking questions. That could be a university, a think tank; some could be partnered with state Republican parties or any voter group, from student groups to the Tea Party. Print journalists and editorial writers should be involved.
These debates don’t need high production values. Put them in a studio without audiences. If that format is good enough for Meet the Press, it should be good enough for Republican debates. Probably the best of the Republican debates was a low-tech affair hosted at Dartmouth by Charlie Rose and carried on the Bloomberg cable channel, which is harder to find than Osama Bin Laden’s hideout. But surveys showed that half the voters in New Hampshire watched the debate on cable or the internet. Interested voters will find these debates.
In the 2016 cycle, with two open primaries, both political parties will be dealing with the same relentless pressure to serve up their candidates for some great, cheesy reality show we’ll pretend are debates. Maybe it’s time for Republicans and Democrats to come together again and form a debate commission for their respective primaries. The current Commission on Presidential Debates has provided a positive alternative to anarchy for the general election, though it’s clearly in need of some reforms. But if both parties formed commissions that sanctioned serious primary debates, it could help save news organizations from themselves.