Modest proposal: Why not a series of one-on-one Republican presidential debates?

Some righties online are calling for the debates to be canceled altogether, an understandable if futile impulse. Sure, they’re hardly ever useful or truly enlightening, but let’s face it — we’re all eager for the first battle royal, to see if anyone breaks out or has a Perry-esque “oops” moment. Still, neo-neocon’s point is well taken: What’s the value of sticking to the same old same old, even if the RNC manages to shrink the field of participants so that the format’s less chaotic?

What they are at this point is an opportunity for the MSM to play “gotcha” and elicit a series of sound bites that will make each Republican candidate in turn look bad, as well as a chance to have the candidates tear each other down and weaken the eventual nominee. Why should the Democrats work any harder than they have to?

It’s high time—in fact, way past the time—Republicans learned that making nice to the MSM will get them noting but grief, and that it isn’t even necessary. Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have successfully thumbed their noses at the media and it has paid off for them. I realize the Republicans are in a position that is the polar opposite because the MSM is on the other side. But that doesn’t change the fact that the MSM has become more openly biased and more and more unnecessary, so why bother?

The value to voters from 90-second soundbites is minimal. The value to, say, George Stephanopoulos in getting to spring a birth-control question on Mitt Romney for the benefit of his party is very high indeed. Why bother?

But again, this is a pipe dream. No one’s going to cancel the debates. The RNC and the candidates crave free exposure to voters, especially given Hillary’s enormous name-recognition advantage. Next best option, then, according to Drew McCoy: Instead of debates, why not candidate forums?

Just bring out each candidate and let them respond to two or three questions from a panel of conservative journalists and/or policy experts. Jim DeMint hosted one of these on Labor Day 2011 to great effect. There’s no reason it can’t be replicated.

You’d still have time constraints but I’d rather have someone like Rand Paul, Rick Perry or Scott Walker, spend 3-5 minutes straight answering a handful of questions with the spotlight on them than the Gong Show type spectacles we’ve seen the last few go rounds.

I like that idea better than the traditional debate idea since each candidate would get to answer at length but I don’t like the fact that they wouldn’t get to interact. Part of the fun of a debate is seeing one pol challenge another. So we need something like candidate forums but with more interplay between the contenders.

Jon Gabriel’s bracket gives me an idea:

I don’t like the idea of a bracket per se, partly because it makes each debate too important — if Scott Walker, say, has an off-night early then we don’t get to see him again onstage — and partly because it denies us match-ups we might otherwise look forward to. E.g., if Rick Santorum “defeats” Jeb Bush and “advances” to debate Rubio, we never get the Bush/Rubio debate we’d all undeniably enjoy. So here’s a proposal: Schedule three or four traditional battle royal debates with 12 candidates or whatever onstage, just so that everyone can say that they had some face time with a national audience and got to address a variety of issues. Beyond that, thought, schedule a few dozen one-on-one debates with the pairings to be decided by the RNC, the candidates themselves, and polls of Republican voters. One debate everyone would like to see, obviously, is Rubio versus Paul on foreign policy. Another, to contrast the views of the two strongest social cons in the race, would pit Huckabee against Ted Cruz. Another obvious one is Scott Walker versus Chris Christie to compare how they succeeded and failed as Republican governors in deep blue states. Those are no-brainer match-ups. Another, to give the tea-party heroes an opportunity to distinguish themselves from each other, would put Paul and Cruz head to head. We’d inevitably get a Bush versus Rubio debate too given the importance of Florida and likely a Walker versus Kasich debate to see which midwestern governor is superior. You can come up with interesting pairings as well as I can. And if one candidate wants to invite another to debate, just for the fun/free exposure of it, great. I’ll bet Carly Fiorina, for instance, would love a crack at Trump after this.

Limit each candidate to, say, four one-on-one debates and schedule two a week for the rest of the year for 90 minutes, Lincoln-Douglas style. They could be held at regular times, e.g. every Monday and/or Wednesday at 9, and carried live in any number of formats. If Fox News wants the Rubio/Paul debate, they can have it; if they want it but don’t want to preempt Megyn Kelly, they could give it to Fox Business. C-SPAN could and probably would carry every single debate live. So could/would the RNC website. The only reason not to do something like this is that you’re creating many more opportunities for candidates to screw up and say something damaging by forcing them to speak at length, but I think that risk is unavoidable at this point and worth bearing. In a field this chaotic, you need ways to separate the wheat from the chaff. And offhand, despite him participating in 20-odd debates three years ago, I can’t remember a single damaging debate soundbite from Romney that really mattered in the end. What hurt him was the “47 percent” comment — which was uttered at a GOP fundraiser, not at a debate. Given the variety of viewpoints represented in this field, you’d be almost guaranteed to have fascinating exchanges no matter who’s pitted against who, a nice advertisement for the party in a year when Democrats have mustered a single tired formulaic presidential behemoth. Imagine, just for starters, Rand Paul taking on Rubio, Cruz, Huckabee, and Chris Christie (or Lindsey Graham) over the span of four months. I might pay money to watch that.

What do you think? Given your guy’s celebrated record in debate competitions, Ted Cruz fans, you should be behind this 100 percent.