When it comes to its field of contenders for 2016, the GOP has a bit of a dilemma on its hands. The pack of possible candidates is crowded, to say the least, which has an upside and a downside. The upside is that it advertises the depth of the Republican Party in an election where the Democratic offerings are pretty much Hillary Clinton and those two other guys. The downside is that a race that looks likely to grow to as many as 16 candidates is beyond unwieldy.
Fox News, with the tacit assent of the Republican National Committee, has taken the first steps to limit the field, by announcing that only the top 10 candidates, by poll numbers, will get a spot in the first sanctioned debate this August in Cleveland.
At the same time, though, Republican political consultants look at the decision to limit the debate to 10 candidates as the worst of all worlds. The party can be slammed for restricting debate while still being stuck with a cumbersome corps of participants.
“You don’t want to kick anyone off the stage, but even the 10 that they’re capping at is too many,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “Really, you can’t do this with more than seven. Five is even a lot. They are trying to accommodate this as best they can.”
The early challenges for the GOP are obvious, said the Republican strategist O’Connell, but nothing is written in stone. Once the voters begin speaking, he said, the field may be limited by powers beyond the TV networks or the RNC
“The debate rules could very well change. Once we get to the Iowa caucus, the debate rules don’t matter anymore,” he said.