The GOP's debate problem

“It’s the [Donald] Trump problem,” said Florida GOP strategist Rick Wilson. “He’s an entirely unserious candidate but one with very serious name ID.”

Trump, who hasn’t actually announced and has a long history of pretending he’s going to run for president, might make the debate stage under current rules simply because his notoriety affords him a level of name recognition that many candidates can’t come close to. According to the criteria released by Fox News, which will host the Aug. 6 debate, the 10 candidates who make the stage will be determined by an average of five recent national polls — and when Trump’s name is tested, his performance suggests he’d be one of the 10…

“The idea that a national poll has any relationship to the viability of a candidate — ask Rudy Giuliani that, ask Phil Gramm that,” Santorum said Thursday at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Oklahoma City, noting that he won the Iowa caucus in 2012 and was the runner-up to the eventual nominee despite polling at just 4 percent in the national polls at the start of the year. “You can go on down the list of folks who were doing real well in national polls and didn’t win a single state and were not a viable candidate.”

A number of campaigns, speaking on background, are unhappy that the Republican National Committee, which decided to insert itself into the debate process early on by limiting the number of debates and spacing them out, appears to have kicked to the networks the more difficult and consequential issue of who participates.