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OP-ED | GOP Would Benefit From ‘March Madness’ Debate Format In Crowded Field

by | Jul 21, 2015 10:29am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Analysis, Election 2016, Election Policy, Media Matters, Opinion, Millennial Voices, White House

The first debate of the 2016 presidential election is just weeks away, and I for one am looking forward to it.

I have fond memories of watching the Republican primary debates in 2012 (who can forget moments like Rick Perry’s “oops” or Mitt Romney’s endorsement of “self-deportation”?), and 2016 promises to be bigger, better, and wackier than ever, at least on the Republican side.

We’ll be seeing old favorites like Mike Huckabee, Perry, and Rick Santorum, dynastic successors like Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, and an outlandish buffet in Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and Donald Trump that will make Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich look tame by comparison. And with no obvious frontrunner, the stakes will be higher than ever.

Unfortunately, spoilsports at FOX News and CNN are already trying to kill the fun. In an effort to avoid packing people on the stage like sardines in a can, network executives have said that they’ll be culling the field using national polling averages to allow only the most viable candidates onstage.

History, however, suggests this will be a failure on its face. At this time in 2011, Gingrich, Santorum, and Ron Paul, the candidates who eventually mounted the most serious challenges to Romney, languished at the bottom of the polls, behind candidates like Bachmann, Perry, and Cain. And in 2007, Mike Huckabee and Paul were cellar-dwellers, far behind ultimately less-successful candidates like Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson. My point is that polls this far out from the election have only a vague relation to who will actually have a shot at winning the nomination. To use them as criteria for entrance to the debates shows a willful ignorance of history.

It also shows an ignorance of statistics. As Politico’s Larry Sabato recently pointed out, the large Republican field, along with the polling margin of error, means that seven or more candidates are in a statistical tie. Trying to distinguish between Perry and Santorum, both of whom are at 2.0 percent in the RealClearPolitics average, is absurd. John Kasich, at 1.5 percent, and Bobby Jindal, at 1.3 percent, are in the same boat. It’s arbitrary, and quite frankly crazy, to decide who debates and who doesn’t based on minuscule and statistically insignificant differences.

The networks’ concern, however, is a fair one. With limited time and a crush of candidates, it will be harder than ever for the debates to be substantive, and for voters to get to know each candidate. But there is a better approach, an outside-the-box idea that would generate considerable public interest in the debates, and allow every candidate to put their ideas forward. The Republican presidential debates should be a single-elimination, one-on-one debate tournament.

Using national polling averages, candidates would be seeded, similar to March Madness, using the current national averages. Each head-to-head matchup would be 30 minutes, which means a network could probably have four of them in a night. Winners would be determined by online contributions to the Republican National Committee, made in the name of one candidate or the other, in the 24 hours after the debate ended.

This would be a huge win for the RNC, which would raise tens of millions of dollars to support Republican candidates throughout the cycle. And the mano-a-mano competitive tournament style would generate huge public interest in sports-crazed America. News outlets, or the RNC itself, could run bracket-prediction competitions, with the winners getting to attend the final debates, and highlights from the debates would get far more play on the news and on social media.

But most importantly, these debates would allow every candidate to have at least one shot at making their case to the American people. They would allow candidates to talk about issues, because with only two candidates on stage at a time, there’d be no need to grab for attention by saying the most bombastic thing possible.

And of course they would be a ton of fun. Many more voters would watch the debates with this setup, and they would turn the Republican Party’s biggest weakness — 17 candidates and counting — into a strength. At a time when the Democratic Party is headed towards a coronation, the Republicans’ cutting edge excitement and vitality would be an interesting contrast. Republicans believe that if more Americans knew what they stand for, they would win again. A nationally televised debate tournament among the candidates would give them the chance to prove it.

Kiernan Majerus-Collins, 20, is a student at Bates College and a Democratic Town Committee member from West Hartford. He can be reached on Facebook

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

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(19) Archived Comments

posted by: art vandelay | July 21, 2015  12:20pm

art vandelay

What upsets me more is the fact that the media now decides our leaders.  It’s obvious the media is in love with Hillary and will do everything possible to see she is elected. 

The media has given her a free pass on Benghazi, her e-mail server, Whitewater, and a host of other questionable exploits. The press is roped off at public events so she cannot be subject to any gaffes or embarrassing moments. The press also makes sure Bernie Sanders will never become a threat. If Hillary were a Republican her next address would be Leavenworth instead of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Elections have now become a popularity contests.  Maybe we as a country would be better off selecting candidates in smoked filled rooms.  Our current President was selected by the media.  The result has been a total disaster to the point where its future is in serious jeopardy.

posted by: UConnHoop | July 21, 2015  5:40pm

I always get a kick out of Democrats giving Republicans advice on how to get elected.

posted by: SocialButterfly | July 21, 2015  7:03pm

Only Donald Trump can defeat Hillary.

posted by: SocialButterfly | July 22, 2015  9:26am

@art vandelay: Why are you only aingling our Hillary Clinton and failing to recognize Donald Trump who is the only candidate in both parties who can save America?

posted by: LongJohn47 | July 24, 2015  4:28pm

Here’s another take on the same idea.  First, divide the sixteen candidates (16!) into two groups according to poll standings and let them debate.

At the end, allow anyone in the country to pay a dollar and vote by text on who won in each group (all money to charity).  One phone, one vote. 

Then the bottom four in Group 1 move down, and the top four in Group 2 move up (it’s called “relegation”, like they do in European soccer leagues).

Repeat.  After the second round it would cost $2 per vote.

Repeat.  After the third round it would cost $5 per vote.

By this time everyone has had a fair shot at being in the “frontrunner” group. and positions going into Iowa and New Hampshire would be based on performance rather than simple name recognition.

And it would raise a ton of money for charity.

posted by: art vandelay | July 27, 2015  1:31am

art vandelay

@ LongJohn47:
It’s bad enough that the media will decide our next President. Now your suggesting non eligible voters be allowed to pick the candidates via texts?  I don’t think so.  This entire process is turning into a huge circus.  Hopefully the Attorney General & Congressional Foreign Relations Committee might decide indirectly who will be the Democrat Party nominee.

posted by: LongJohn47 | July 27, 2015  7:30am

Art—we’ve had the Supreme Court pick our President (Bush vs. Gore), we’ve had “dark money” try to pick our President through Super PACs (and they’ll be back big time), we have polls trying to tell us who’s in the lead (even with the standard error of measurement in most polls really means we don’t know).

If you want (as I do) that the President who’s ultimately elected be representative of the largest number of people, I think my suggestion has merit.  We want the cream to rise to the top, not just the froth.

posted by: SocialButterfly | July 27, 2015  1:08pm

@LongJohn47: You say that the proceeds of $1 per vote should go to charity but skirt the fact that many of are voters are themselves on government-paid-charity. You continue to be a champion to designate the positive by purposely eliminating the negative aspects which always seem to leave you as a based writer..

posted by: bob8/57 | July 27, 2015  3:23pm


“Republicans believe that if more Americans knew what they stand for, they would win…”

No, no they don’t believe this. They may say that, but really believe that if they were to speak truthfully about their positions Americans would abandon them in droves. Because when you stand for things like white supremacy, religious and sexual bigotry as well as might makes right, it does not pay to be honest with the electorate.

posted by: art vandelay | July 27, 2015  10:04pm

art vandelay

My comments were directed toward the primaries and not the general election.  Yes you are correct the Supreme Court did decide the 2000 election. 

The House of Representatives on two occasions decided the presidential election.  In 1976, the election between Tilden &  Hayes was decided by a special commission selected by the Senate & House.

What further infuriates me are these edicts by states forcing their electoral college delegates to vote for the winner of the popular vote.  This opens the flood gates to voting fraud by illegals and same day registration voters. The only reason for these new policies is to ensure one party rule for eternity.

posted by: LongJohn47 | July 27, 2015  11:46pm

Art—in 2000 Gore won 500,000 more votes than Bush but lost the election because of Florida.  In 2004 Bush won 3,000,000 more votes than Kerry but would have lost the election if Ohio had gone Democrat (he needed just 100,000 more).

Of course we need a national popular vote.  The Electoral College is about as stupid a method of electing a president as could possibly imagined.

But for some reason you’re concerned about in-person electoral fraud, regardless of the fact that the numbers are infinitesimally tiny.

And illegals voting?  What is your evidence that they do, or that they could ever make a difference?  You would need millions of them going to the polls.  It’s a complete lunacy.

posted by: art vandelay | July 28, 2015  12:47am

art vandelay

I respectfully disagree. I firmly believe in the Electoral College. Having states change their electoral college votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote even though that candidate lost in the state is wrong, and probably unconstitutional. The only reason why this new idea is getting any traction is that the current crop of Democrats in office have no regard for the document. I’d bet my bank account that our current president has never set foot in the National Archives in his entire life.

As far as illegals voting, our newly designed “Driver Only” License looks VERY similar to a normal license used by legalized citizens.  One has to look on the back to read that it is for driving only.  Not many if any checkers at the polls will closely examine “For Driving Only” licenses.  Yes illegals & same day registrants CAN make a difference in elections.  If they didn’t why would the Democrats want them to have drivers licenses or allow people to register the day of an election.

posted by: LongJohn47 | July 28, 2015  2:41pm

Art—the Electoral College is massively unfair to people in states with large populations which is why it should be abolished.  Wyoming, for example, has one Electoral College vote per 139,000 people.  Ohio has one per 476,000.  What’s wrong with “one man, one vote”?

As to giving drivers licenses to undocumented aliens, to me it makes sense because they have to pass a driving test.  I know you want them gone but they’re here, they’re driving, so I want them to have licenses (and insurance).

Same day registration makes it easier for citizens to vote.  I would actually prefer automatic registration upon turning eighteen (like we had for Selective Service), and a system like Australia, where every citizen is required to vote.  Our participation rates here are pathetic.

posted by: oldtimer | July 28, 2015  6:03pm

Nothing wrong with the electoral college if every state alloted them as does Maine and Nebraska. It shouldn’t be winner take all. That way, our representative Republic would work as intended and votes in small states would count as much as votes in large states.

posted by: art vandelay | July 28, 2015  7:08pm

art vandelay

The state of Wyoming has three representatives to the Electoral College not one.  Each state’s representatives include the number of House Members PLUS the two senators.  Technically voters do not vote for directly for a President and Vice President.  They vote for their respective state delegates to the Electoral College which convenes in the Capitol every 4 years. It’s the evolution of the mass media that has whipped the populous into this frantic frenzy.  Very few people know EXACTLY how our President & Vice President are elected.  It’s a system that has served this nation well for over two hundred years. It should continue to do so.

The current system can only be changed through a Constitutional Amendment.

posted by: DrHunterSThompson | July 28, 2015  9:57pm

One person, one vote. Otherwise it’s silly.

Trump/sanders is the ticket! Twist and shout!


posted by: LongJohn47 | July 29, 2015  7:05am


584,153 divided by 3 equals 194,717 (Wyoming).

11,590,000 divided by 18 equals 643,888 (Ohio)

the source I used was old, but the point is still the same.  A vote in Wyoming is worth almost 3.5 times a vote in Ohio, which is fundamentally unfair.

Many things have “served our country well” (or poorly) and then changed for the better.  The original concept was for a group of wise men to come together and select a President for us.  That ship has sailed, and it’s time for us to change the system to reflect modern life.

posted by: art vandelay | July 29, 2015  11:52am

art vandelay

There is a method in which the Constitution can be amended.  It’s happened 27 times in the course of our nations history.  If it’s the intention of this country to change the electoral process to a direct popular vote than do it through the method outlined. It never should be done on a whim or quick reaction to a political or historical event.  The Founding Fathers made the amendment process difficult and for good reason.  In your mind the process maybe unfair, but fortunately or unfortunately it’s the law of the land.

posted by: LongJohn47 | July 30, 2015  8:43am

Art—I enthusiastically support the amendment process, but it isn’t necessary in this case. 

Here’s the language of the Constitution:  “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress”.

“...in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct…”  There’s nothing in the Constitution that says the electors are required to vote for the person who received the most votes in that state (or congressional district, for that matter).

The Legislature is fully free to set different rules, which ten states and the District of Columbia have so far done in line with the national popular vote movement. 

I agree that this is not the preferred way to make this change, but it’s entirely legal.

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