Stuffing as many people into a compressed space as possible is a long, storied and stupid American tradition, from the 1950s phone booth cramming craze to the ever-declining size of airline seats. Today’s Republicans are already applying the same principle to their ongoing search for the one person who can beat Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Time’s Zeke J. Miller reports that the Republican Party expects to have as many as 17 candidates running in the primary,-which has led to the logistical nightmare of there simply being too many clowns to fit on the stage during debates:
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.
One “Republican operative” told Miller that the planned debates were “historic,” since normally debate organizers find themselves in the position of trying to get people in the debates. Now, the GOP is seriously concerned about the inverse possibility. I’m not an expert on clowning, but I think 17 is really pushing it.
But that number does not seem entirely unrealistic. This week, we’ve seen announcements from religious wingnut Mike Huckabee, war crime admirer Ben Carson, and token female Carly Fiorina (who is polling so poorly Katie Couric actually asked her if she was running for vice president). With Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio formally in, Rick Santorum expected to launch in a few weeks, and Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, and Scott Walker all more or less givens, that gets us to 12 major candidacies so far.
All we need is a handful of the typical raving loons and hangers-on to throw their hat in the ring and baby, you’ve got a stew going. There probably won’t be a day in the next six months without some kind of horribly embarrassing gaffe or mind-bending shouting match over the conspiracy theory of the day.
This crowded primary process should make for some great liberal hate-watching for sure, but Democrats dismiss it at their peril. Unlike 2012, where the GOP field was so weak that a 90s relic like Newt Gingrich or delusional right-wingers like Herman Cain could waltz in and enjoy a few weeks of front-runner status, 2016’s primary pool includes a number of popular governors with big fundraising capacities. Super PAC fundraising has really come into its own, and the prospect of over a dozen simultaneous, high-profile Republican campaign tours should make any progressive campaign consultant a little sweaty.
Still, the most likely scenario remains that this infighting will erode the Republican Party’s readiness to wage an even more grueling campaign against likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. With so much competition, the primaries will likely drift to the right pretty quickly, and restraining the natural Republican affinity for saying condescending and offensive stuff for no reason will be a much more difficult task. So keep on cramming them in there, boys.