The Corner

Politics & Policy

Thirty-Seven Minutes of Non-Candidate Talk at the Last Debate?

CNBC deserves every bit of criticism it’s getting for the questioners’ tone at the debate in Boulder, but a big reason why so many GOP candidates are so frustrated by the debates so far is the fact that there are ten candidates on the prime-time stage. Candidates end the night with a mere six or seven minutes of speaking time, and go ten, 15, even 20 minutes between statements.

Donald Trump insisted that the debate be limited to two hours. If you had no commercials, no time for questioners to ask questions, and no pauses and no introductions, each candidate would get twelve minutes.

As is, according to the New York Times’s clock, Carly Fiorina got the most time in the last debate, 10 minutes and 31 seconds, and Jeb Bush got the least, 6 minutes and 8 seconds.

The funny thing is, if you add up the speaking time tabulated by the Times for each candidate, you get 83 minutes of talk. That means introductions, questions, commercials, and perhaps cross-talk amounted to 37 minutes over the course of the officially two-hour prime-time debate. (With networks charging five times their regular advertising rates on debate nights, the networks want as much ad time as possible.)

Last night, representatives from the campaigns met with the Republican National Committee in Alexandria, Va., and concurred that future debates should last no more than two hours, and there’s a broad consensus that each candidate should get a 30-second opening statement.

Last week, Ben Carson called for fewer debates than the eight scheduled remaining debates and for the debates to feature five-minute opening statements from the candidates – meaning that under the current format, the first 50 minutes would be opening statements.

One option being tossed around is having a debate that isn’t sponsored by a television network – set up risers in the back and let anyone broadcast the event live who wants, as with big-time campaign speeches, the general-election presidential debates, and the conventions. Of course, for the networks, not having the exclusive broadcast means they won’t get those lucrative advertising rates.


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