The Spectacle Blog

Too Many Debates?

By on 10.27.11 | 11:06PM

Byron York argues that the pending schedule of at least a dozen GOP primary debates between November 9 and January 31 is overkill:

The sheer number of debates raises the question of diminishing returns. The early debates helped introduce the candidates to the Republican primary electorate. Later debates will help voters in critical states make their final decisions. But the next few debates, while they might be the occasion for a major gaffe or gotcha, have little purpose.

What would the candidates do if they weren't debating so much? They'd campaign more. That's obviously what Perry wants to do. Compare his weak performance on the debate stage with his mastery of hands-on, one-on-one campaigning, and its easy to understand why.

But fewer debates would probably benefit the other candidates, too. Voters in the early states really do pay close personal attention to candidates, and word gets around if a candidate does well on the stump. Of course, for that to happen, the candidate has to actually be on the stump.

Hmm. Fewer debates would certainly benefit some of the candidates, but can it really benefit all of them? The candidates are, after all, in a zero-sum contest to win votes. While Rick Perry's time may be better spent on the trail than on a debate stage, the opposite is probably true for at least some of the candidates, and it is surely true that other candidates benefit from having Perry use his time inefficiently. And if Perry or anyone else skips a debate, that costs him something; it's doubtful that Jon Huntsman gained anything by skipping the debate in Nevada last week. Maybe the benefits of being on the trail outweigh the costs of skipping a debate in some cases, but given that a debate is unlikely to be canceled unless a critical mass of candidates take a pass, and some candidates have a disincentive to do so, it's hard to see how the debate schedule can be significantly lightened.

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