So after much back and forth over the impending exclusion of Carly Fiorina, which upset not just Carly but all those GOP image-makers concerned with an all-male cast of a thousand candidates, the stage has been set for the second Republican presidential debate next Wednesday, sponsored by CNN at the Ronald Reagan Library. By bending its rules, CNN has managed to get Fiorina into the Grownups debate, which will now include eleven candidates.
The second-tier or Happy Hour or Kiddie Table debate, whatever you choose to call it, to be held immediately before the main event, is going to be a pretty sad affair. You’ve got Rick Perry, whose campaign cannot rub two nickels together. You’ve got Rick Santorum, who more than ever looks like he’s operating in a time warp. You’ve got Lindsey Graham, whose own South Carolina Republicans overwhelmingly want him to get out of the race, and whose mission to destroy Rand Paul seems a bit overkillish. You’ve got George Pataki, another time-warp nobody. And you’ve got Bobby Jindal, who will presumably use the debate to fire off quips about Donald Trump’s hair. It sorta looks like one of those obligatory local public television Other Voices debates at four in the morning where the Prohibition and Socialist Workers and Larouche candidates get to strut their stuff.
Perhaps the most important news about the treatment of the field by CNN is that one candidate, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, was excluded from both debates on grounds that he has no discernible political pulse. And so, with cheers from pundits and political scientists confident that Trump and Carson and Fiorina will lose their grip on the GOP electorate once the field is smaller, the Great Winnowing has finally begun! One down! Fifteen more to go and then Jeb Bush can raise his hands in triumph and this year’s threat to the orthodoxies of The Party Decides will end!