First, it would be nice to actually have an intelligent debate — but that’s impossible when you have too many candidates on stage. It not only looks ridiculous (memes are already popping up), but more importantly, it spawns raise your hands if you don’t believe in evolution-type questions. As one Republican involved in the process told Martin, “a 90-minute forum with 10 candidates would offer each candidate only four to five minutes, after subtracting commercials and moderator time.”
On the other hand, the power to exclude is the power to destroy. If someone is included in the debates, they are granted a certain imprimatur. If someone is excluded from the debates, they are assumed to be politically dead. And, in a way, this is a self-fulfilling prophesy. It’s is a Catch-22: You can’t get into the debates unless you’re polling at a certain threshold … but you can’t increase your poll numbers unless you get into the debates… Would Mike Huckabee have caught fire in 2008 had he been excluded from early debates?
Of course, this doesn’t have to be a mutually exclusive proposition. Maybe there are creative ways to have real debates that are also inclusive? According to Martin, allies of Bobby Jindal have floated the idea of “back-to-back debates, with seven or eight candidates, chosen at random, in each.”