With the first debate of the night underway, millions of Americans are probably asking “When will people start dropping out of the race again?” And if they are not asking that question, then they may be gluttons for punishment.
For the past several months the Republicans have had a lion’s share of candidates vying for their attention but have mostly been lost among the cacophony that is Donald Trump and the media’s infatuation of the businessman’s quirky campaign. And while the undercard debate has had little benefit for the past couple of rounds with candidates barely registering a pulse in the polls, Tuesday night’s go around on Fox Business showed a fresh lineup with candidates from the top tier going against a couple of the old treads.
The iteration of the second-tier debate, the “kiddie table” as Chris Christie once put it, had the New Jersey governor and former Gov. Mike Huckabee joining Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Sen. Rick Santorum on the stage that seemingly had more energy and detail than previous ones. It does not necessarily mean much in the long game as none of these candidates — barring a meltdown from Trump, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio and several other candidates — have a serious chance to represent the party in the November elections.
With just a a couple of months before the first selection nights littered with holidays that will surely distract the public from the campaign, the four candidates took no time to pull punches in desperate efforts to not only get onto the main stage but make inroads towards frontrunner status in time for Iowa and New Hampshire. And while polling this far out from the Iowa caucuses are highly unreliable (remember Rudy Giuliani’s “insurmountable” lead in 2008?) this year’s unique blend of crazy candidates mixed with highly-qualified candidates who can mount serious campaigns in the general make it really hard to see a path for any of the four candidates, as well as the three candidates who were not invited to either debates.
That doesn’t mean the debate is not worth watching. In fact, this version contained more meaningful interactions with the higher legitimacy of Christie and Huckabee in New Hampshire and Iowa, respectively, and their ability to drive substance out of Jindal and Santorum, both known for their political strength in years past.
If anything, this debate showed that the idea floating around last week regarding a new selection criteria not involving arbitrary polls but instead the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire or a random selection of candidates for both debates, making it six candidates on each panel instead of eight on one and four on the other. Because what we saw from the undercard debate tonight is that the candidates have substantive comments to make, strengthening their stance among voters and the overall candidacy after the primary.
But that wouldn’t be good media, wouldn’t it? Instead, we need to make sure the debate rakes in record numbers like we’ve seen on Fox, CNN, CNBC and likely Fox Business after tonight, with viewers tuned in to see Trump try to upstage everyone (red cup scandal, anyone?) while the others try to gain a foothold and take the lead as the serious candidate to beat.