In case the 2016 presidential election doesn't feel "real" to you yet —and why would it, really, when Jeb Bush hasn't made it official yet, and Hillary Clinton is still in hiding—it's time to change that tune. Why? Here's why: Because we're finally talking debates.
American presidential primary debates usually fall somewhere between an insane vaudevillian farce and a sort of OK night of television. In the last election cycle, a painkiller-addled Rick Perry oopsed his way out of a presidential career, Newt Gingrich tried to eat a CNN moderator, and Michele Bachman launched the Great Vaccine Panic of 2012. Each of the 7,345 debates was an anxious exercise in just how much crazy the Republican Party could take before it spinning off its axis. The answer was much more alarming—and entertaining—than any of us could have imagined.
The 2016 Republican primary debates hold their own promise. By my last count, there are approximately 1,200 men and women running for the GOP nomination; RealClearPolitics currently aggregates polling numbers for 14 of those likely candidates, ostensibly the ones who might actually be vaguely plausible options.
With so many candidates vying against each other, the idea of a debate is daunting. Put them all on a stage together and you basically just have a town hall of very rich people. Leave some of them out, and you risk tainting the democratic process—and bruising some very large egos.
The solutions so far have been… interesting. Fox News announced this week that its GOP primary debate—the first of the cycle—would feature just the top ten candidates, as determined by national polls, while the sad, jowly also-rans pace the media spin room and wonder why Ben Carson is up there talking about their flat tax plan.
If the debate were held today, according to Fox's criteria, it would include Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Carson, Chris Christie—I know, I'm surprised too—Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum. Even without the other 1,190 other candidates, it's going to be a crowded stage. It's hard to imagine most of these men ceding a microphone to their wife at their wedding, let alone playing nice with nine other blowhards auditioning for the same job.
But wait, it gets better. CNN, which will host the second GOP debate at the Ronald Reagan Library in September, will similarly limit the stage to the top 10 candidates. But they'll also host another, B-Team debate for any other candidate who's polling above 1 percent—which sounds like the most madcap development in US presidential politics since the days when the runner-up just got to be VP.
Of course, these new rules raise plenty of legitimate questions: Why ten candidates and not six, or eight, or 12, or 100? How is this going to work? Will Ted Cruz finally make another candidate cry? What will Wolf Blitzer do then? What we do know is that speaking time will be short and the spotlight hard to come by. So it would be wise for the candidates to start shaping up their closing remarks early. I have some suggestions.
Scott Walker: "With the Koch brothers' support, I have the budget of a medium-sized European country. I will literally pay you to vote for me."
Marco Rubio: "I will be whatever you want me to be, America. Please just let me know."
Rand Paul: "I occasionally say I'm against the widespread surveillance of Americans, which I guess makes me a really out-there politician. Apparently no one remembers my dad."
Mike Huckabee: "Do I want to be president? No, not really. So just put up with me for a few more months, and then subscribe to my new internet channel, coming January 2017."
Ted Cruz: "One word: America." [Smirks for several minutes]
Ben Carson: "If I can do brain surgery, I can do White House stuff, because these things are very similar. And I just compared Obamacare to slavery, the Islamic State, and the Third Reich on national television, so I already know you're all mine."
Chris Christie: "People may joke about my weight, my rudeness, my anger issues, and the allegations that I'm comically corrupt, but at least I'm not Ben Carson."
Rick Perry: "I wear glasses now. I am totally different and much smarter than I used to be. I am president. Call me president."
Rick Santorum: "The only way to get rid of me is to elect me. Otherwise, I will continue running every four years until the Earth is eaten by the sun. God bless."
Carly Fiorina: "I'm a woman, like Hillary Clinton, except I didn't do Benghazi. And I ran a company once, but we don't have to dwell on that. Just Benghazi. That's it."
Bobby Jindal: "Can you believe that people are still talking about me? I can't either!"
Lindsey Graham: "I'm a single-issue candidate and that issue is war. I like war."
Jeb Bush: "Here's the deal: Unless I like, smoke meth on camera in the next 90 minutes, I've got this locked up. So let's just get this goat rodeo over with, OK?"
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