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Opinion

Another View: Include all in Republican debates

“INCLUDE them all!”

That’s the call from Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, regarding the number of Republican presidential candidates who should be part of the televised debate process. Donald Trump’s continuing misadventures give credence to Sabato’s suggestion.

Trump’s derogatory remarks about Mexicans during his campaign kickoff announcement resulted in NBC cutting ties with The Donald, but didn’t hurt his candidacy. The king of bombast has remained at or near the top of various polls tracking Republican voters’ preferences in the crowded field.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who won the Republican nomination for president in 2008, said last week that Trump had stirred up the “crazies” during an earlier appearance in Phoenix. The two went back-and-forth a few times after that, with Trump ultimately saying during an appearance in Iowa that McCain was “not a war hero.”

Of course, McCain absolutely is a war hero, having survived 5 ½ years of torture and maltreatment in a North Vietnamese prisoner of war camp after his Navy jet was shot down in 1967. The physical toll from that experience lingers with McCain today.

Trump sniffed that, “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” Cute.

Yet given the rules in place for upcoming GOP debates, Trump is almost guaranteed a spot on stage while more serious and viable candidates will be left out. That’s because only the top 10 candidates in recent national polls will be included in the Fox News debate on Aug. 6 and the CNN debate on Sept. 16. Sabato noted that those who fall outside the top 10 “will attend separate debates guaranteed to have a fraction of the viewership and a fraction of the potential payoff.”

The GOP field stands at 16 after the announcement Tuesday by Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Writing last week at politico.com, Sabato made the point that the margin of error in surveys “is so large that it is statistically impossible to determine who should fill the last two or three spots in the top 10.”

The 10-person cutoff was made with convenience in mind. It’s easier to manage a group that size than it would be to manage 16 or 17 people. The flip side is that impressive candidates like Carly Fiorina and Chris Christie could very well fall outside the top 10, which would hurt their chances of staying in the race, while Trump gets the opportunity to further his sensational, shock-jock cause. Sabato suggests that all candidates with at least 1 percent in the polling averages, or who are current or former governors or senators, be invited to the first two prime-time debates. Make them back-to-back 90-minute debates, with a lottery to determine who’s in the first debate (the remainder would appear in the second debate).

“If both Fox and CNN adopt this arrangement, the selection process would almost certainly produce four different combinations of candidates going head-to-head in August and September events,” Sabato said. “Or perhaps the CNN face-off could switch up the candidates in some reasonable fashion to ensure variety and feature very different combos from the earlier Fox debate.”

– Oklahoman, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

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