Taking Dunlap’s advice to give Nurse Ratched a special kind of hand show, Iowa Republicans ponder the unthinkable: A substantive debate focusing on key issues.

Dissatisfied with the debate here Wednesday that drew widespread scorn, Iowa Republicans will discuss on Friday the possibility of holding another forum before the January 3rd caucuses.

The debate this week, sponsored by the Des Moines Register and Iowa Public Television, was to have been the final gathering of the GOP contenders, but one well-placed Iowa Republican said tonight that they were interested in getting the candidates back together.

“We’d prefer if the Register debate did not leave a bad taste,” said this source, who requested anonymity. “Iowa deserves a little better than that.”…

It’s uncertain if all of the hopefuls would agree to an additional joint gathering or if there is even time enough to get one scheduled. But that Republicans are even mulling the prospect says much about just how upset they were about a forum that lacked any follow-up questions, avoided any attention on differences and mostly became a chance for the candidates to get their message out.

It’s only worth doing if they unload the dead weight and let the big five have at it. The Paulnuts will be insufferable if that happens, though, particularly since their boy is tied with McCain for fifth in some state polls. The state GOP’s probably reluctant, too, to whittle down the field before even a single primary’s been held. I don’t know how to make this worthwhile with eight candidates, though, without tricking out the format a la the YouTube debate or the moderators being willing to ask some very specific questions about Iraq plans, Iran and Pakistan what-ifs, how to negotiate over immigration with what’s sure to be a Democratic Congress, how to respond to Americans’ apparent amenability to socialized medicine, etc. The Republicans have skated through the debate season without being pressed for details on a lot of big questions; I can’t remember any meaningful exchanges about Iraq, for example, except Paul whinging on about empire and then being rebuked by whoever’s turn it was that night to rebuke him. Do it well or don’t do it. Cleansing a “bad taste” is a stupid reason to go through the motions again.