TIME’s Zeke Miller has a very timely report on the efforts of Republican presidential debate planners to figure out how to deal with what could be by far the largest field ever:

After suffering through a seemingly endless and unwieldy stream of 23 debates in the 2012 cycle, the Republican National Committee took control of the process, marshaling networks and candidates to agree to a framework where they only participate in fewer than a dozen sanctioned debates. But now the national party and networks face the new challenge of arranging as many as 17 candidates on a single televised stage.

Largely out of view, executives and journalists from Fox and CNN, with input from the national party, are weighing the entrance criteria for the first two debates. Among the options being considered is using polling as a rough inclusionary test, followed by a fundraising metric—dollars raised or the number of individual donors activated. All of these things are in flux as the networks and the national party struggle with the largest plausible debate field in history.

The big problem, of course, is how to have a cutoff and still include candidates the party leadership wants on the stage to show diversity and/or (in the case of Carly Fiorina) to provide some good vicious anti-HRC counter-programming. But Miller notes another consideration: the
GOP may need the debate cutoff to execute the kind of “winnowing of the field” you’d normally expect to happen in Iowa, either before or at the Caucuses.

For now we are looking at an insanely crowded stage and perhaps a long, long debate format. Hugh Hewitt, already announced as a questioner at the second debate, is suggesting four hours.


Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.