“To say in 30 seconds what you would do with 18 percent of the economy,” said Newt Gingrich, “. . . is the perfect case of why I’m going to challenge the president to seven Lincoln-Douglas–style three-hour debates with a timekeeper and no moderator, at least two of which ought to be on health care.” Gingrich has been talking about the idea for years. Though it’s not likely that a Lincoln-Douglas–style debate will happen next autumn, it’s fascinating to contemplate. The format — one hour for the first candidate, ninety minutes for the second, then another thirty for the first — would test the debaters’ stamina and command of the issues. Its proponents also claim that it would elevate the tone of American politics. Maybe, maybe not: The original Lincoln-Douglas debates got pretty rough at points. Douglas came very close to accusing Lincoln of treason for questioning the Mexican–American War.
Gingrich and Romney could certainly handle the demands of the extended format. There was another candidate on the stage who certainly couldn’t — but I’m blanking on his name.