Ronald Reagan Air Force 1 library

Interior of the Ronald Reagan Library, site of the CNN Republican Debate in Sept;
image courtesy of Reagan Library and Museum

Next Debate May Force Gilmore to Sidelines; Perry Out of Cash
| published August 11, 2015 |

By Keith H. Roberts Thursday Review contributor

Unlike Fox News, which stuck to its plan to keep the total number of candidates on stage in Cleveland last week to ten total—forcing the remaining seven also-rans into a smaller debate which began several hours earlier that day—CNN's predetermined rules will allow only candidates who are able to poll at least one percent support from registered Republicans to participate in the next major forums, which will be held on September 16.

Like Fox News, CNN will likely break the large group into two tiers or groupings. But unlike Fox News, those two debates will be back-to-back, rather than separated by several hours. Also unlike Fox, the criteria set by CNN may nudge at least one candidate out of the debates altogether—former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore, whose current poll numbers show him well with under one percent support from GOP voters. Letters have already been sent out to 16 of the 17 candidates extending tentative invitations to appear at the Sept. 16 event. The invitations were sent out over the signature of former first lady Nancy Reagan.

CNN will produce the debate in conjunction with the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, which is where the debate will take place. Unless Gilmore is able to pull himself out of the less-than-single digit range, he will not appear on stage in any capacity. Most analysts suggest that in such an event Gilmore will have few, if any, options remaining as a candidate.

Most insiders say that CNN will probably break the 16 Republicans into two groups along lines similar to the way Fox News divided the crowded field—top ten contenders in the prime-time debate, and the remaining six (or seven, depending on Gilmore’s polling at the time) in the pre-debate forum.

Most polls show businessman Donald Trump in the lead, with other candidates falling in behind in low single digits or single digits. The extremely crowded nature of the field, coupled with Trump’s colorful and boisterous campaign rhetoric, has made it difficult for many of the one-time front-runners—such as Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker—to break away from the pack. The crowded field has also made it very difficult for some candidates to get their message out at all.

CNN established the one percent criteria earlier this year in conjunction with rules set by the Republican National Committee. Even then, the field of potential candidates was growing rapidly. Political historians say that the current roster of 17 candidates is the most in GOP history. Trump’s arrival to the field upended all the conventional notions of how the field of contenders would stack up and compete.

Gilmore has been unable to raise substantial sums of money even weeks after he entered the race, and if he is unable to appear in the CNN debate in September, he may become the first victim of attrition on what may be a long GOP contest through the primaries and caucuses. But Gilmore is not the only candidate facing an uphill struggle.

The Associated Press is reporting that the campaign of Former Texas Governor Rick Perry has run out of operational cash, and has essentially stopped paying staffers. Immediately after Perry announced his candidacy in early June, Perry was able to raise about $1 million in funds, but contributions dried up almost completely by early July. Some top staffers say they will continue to work as volunteers in the hope that by the next debate Perry’s campaign will be on the mend. The crowded field has not worked to the advantage of some of the candidates, especially those who entered the race later in the spring. Rick Santorum’s campaign is also experiencing cash flow problems, though it is not clear at this time whether his fundraising woes will impact his ability to continue campaigning through August.

Political analysts suggest that other candidates may also fall by the wayside before mid-September as donors begin to shift their allegiance to those candidates who had the strength to survive the final cut for the top ten in CNN’s upcoming debates.

Related Thursday Review articles:

First GOP Debate: Playing the Trump Card; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; August 7, 2015.

Is Trump Destroying the Air Quality?; Thursday Review writers; Thursday Review; August 9, 2015.