Debate News Update

04/01/2015 05:58 pm ET | Updated Jun 01, 2015
T.J. Kirkpatrick via Getty Images

The following post is April Fools' Day satire.

Both the Republicans and the Democrats began April by issuing major announcements about the structure of each party's upcoming debate calendar. Since the 2016 presidential race has already started, it would be foolish to ignore the impact today's news will bring to the contest. The two parties have chosen radically different formats for their debates, but then this makes a certain degree of sense given their radically different candidate fields. The Republicans aim to make their debates more exciting, while the Democrats seem more interested in downplaying their debates altogether.

The Republicans were first in unveiling their new scheme, which took the political world by surprise. Reince Priebus, chair of the National Republican Committee, held a hastily convened press conference to announce the news. "Republican presidential candidates will participate in our new 'bracket' system of debates this fall," Priebus said, "since we've got such a huge field to choose from. We felt that breaking down the debates into smaller contests, all of which will feed into a big final, was the way to go this year." When pressed by reporters, Priebus did eventually admit, "OK, so we got the idea watching March Madness, you're right. But hey, it works for college basketball, so why can't it do wonders for us?"

Priebus was a bit vague on the details, but the way it will basically work is there will be at least four brackets that individual candidates will be divided among. These assignments will be announced later, when all their candidates have formally entered the race, Priebus said, explaining that they didn't even know how many candidates there would eventually be, so it would be impossible to fully diagram the brackets now. He did express confidence that the Republican field would contain at least 16 candidates, although he later joked, "We can't guarantee that all sixteen will be sweet." He did say he doubted that they'd have the full 32 candidates that would necessitate a further round of debates, though. "At the most the field will likely be in the low 20s, which we would solve by having a preliminary system of debates to weed the weakest candidates out."

All of the debates will be one-on-one affairs, unless an odd number of candidates (or too big a number of odd candidates) necessitated early threesomes, to balance the brackets. Most debates will only feature two candidates onstage, though. All debates before the final round will only be an hour in length, because, according to Priebus, "after the hour mark is usually when our candidates say increasingly bizarre things, and we want to avoid that."

Priebus did try to gin up excitement for the new Republican debate schedule by floating a few possible ways to break down the candidates into brackets. "We considered several different ways of dividing the candidates up, and we still haven't made a final decision," Priebus said. "There are many tantalizing possibilities, such as ranking all the candidates by their standing in the polls, or by geography -- we could almost put together a Texas/Florida bracket right now, for instance." Priebus also mentioned the possibility of bracketing candidates by their political positions, or who they appeal to most, mentioning a possible tea party bracket with Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, and Marco Rubio; or perhaps an evangelical bracket consisting of Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, and a candidate to be named later. At one point Priebus joked, "We could even have an entire bracket of just guys named Rick -- Perry, Santorum, Scott, and maybe Snyder!"

The most interesting of these possibilities Priebus called the "outsider" bracket, for those candidates with precisely zero experience in politics, which Priebus said "is already filling out fast with the likes of Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and perhaps even Donald Trump." He went on to predict that the "outsider" debates would likely get the best television ratings.

Winners of each debate will be decided by phone calls and texts during and immediately after the debate. Fox News will be officially in charge of counting the votes, and the small fee ("only a couple of bucks," according to Priebus) charged for each vote will be split between Fox and the winning candidate's campaign chest. "This way," Priebus explained, "winning the debates will actually mean something, because by doing so the candidates will be rewarded with more money for their campaign." However, Priebus was vague on what percentage would actually go to the candidate and how much Fox would collect.

As the debate season advanced (through what Priebus rather lamely called "August Madness, and September Madness, and October Madness!"), the field would shrink to eight and then four, before a big final debate "sometime around the holiday season" between the two candidates left standing. This would determine the debate champion for the 2016 Republican presidential season, although not for the actual nomination itself. "Think of the excitement this will bring to millions of fans of Republican debates!" Priebus exclaimed at the close of his announcement. "What could possibly go wrong with such a great plan?"

Democrats, not to be outdone by the Republican announcement, also hastily called a press conference today (of all days). Unlike the Republicans, however, the Democrats seem determined to lower the profile of their debates. Or, to be more accurate, "debate." In a shocking announcement, Debbie Wasserman Schultz revealed today that there would only be a single Democratic debate during the entire campaign season, and that furthermore it be a debate not for the presidential nomination but for the vice presidential slot on the ticket. Audible gasps erupted from the crowd of reporters, and Wasserman Schultz had to repeat loudly, "This is not a joke. I am not fooling. I am completely serious!" before the noise died down.

"Look," began the Democratic National Committee chair, "we all know it -- you know it, I know it, they know it, and she certainly knows it -- that Hillary Rodham Clinton is going to be our 2016 presidential nominee. It's a done deal. Everyone in this room has written about Hillary's inevitability already this year, and so we decided to not even bother playing coy about the situation. Rather than have others pretend to run against Hillary in the presidential race when they all know as well as we do that they are merely running for veep, we decided to make our debate more honest. Instead of candidates politely disagreeing with Clinton on stage -- ever so politely, so they'll remain on her short list for a running mate -- we instead decided to just cut to the chase and have a straight-up debate for the vice presidential nomination."

Wasserman Schultz went on to announce that the single debate would be moderated by "whomever Hillary chooses," and that the winner of the debate would, obviously, be announced as usual at the Democratic National Convention. Clinton, Wasserman Schultz said, would have sole authority to name the winner, and she hinted that Hillary might be interested in even overseeing the debate from a shadowy throne-like seat at the back of the stage.

Wasserman Schultz went on to address the fact that some might be disappointed in a single debate. "We have taken this into consideration," the DNC chair stated, "and feel that if the ratings are good enough, we might consider an extended season to be titled Who Wants to Be in Hillary's Cabinet?, where prospective cabinet nominees could make their case against their competitors. This would help the American people get to know who will be advising Hillary once she wins the presidency and would help keep people interested in her campaign."

The idea of a veep debate does make a certain amount of sense for the Democrats, it must be admitted. None of the other possible candidates really has much of a prayer of beating Hillary, and most of them would be happy enough to be on a ticket with Clinton, in the hopes of later moving up to the top slot themselves. People like Jim Webb and Martin O'Malley would likely be overjoyed at riding Hillary's coattails into the White House, and even Bernie Sanders knows full well that that'd be the best he could possibly hope for. The only possible exception to this list would be Joe Biden, but when asked about how Biden felt about the new plan, Wasserman Schultz dismissed the concerns, stating that Biden has seen the polls and "would likely be happy enough to be given the job of traveling around the country on Amtrak, campaigning for Hillary on a gigantic whistlestop tour. Am I right?"

When the laughter subsided, Wasserman Schultz closed with another surprise. "We realize there is already great disappointment among millions of Democratic base voters, so we have one final exciting announcement just for them. Because Elizabeth Warren has absolutely refused to run this year, no matter how fervent her supporters, we felt that they needed to be engaged with the debate process as well. And so we're happy to announce that a life-size cardboard cutout of Warren will have its own podium on the debate stage." Wasserman Schultz went on to explain that whenever the cutout was asked a question, a random clip from one of Warren's most-viewed YouTube speech excerpts would play for the audience. "We figure that'll make the Warren fanatics happy enough," said Wasserman Schultz, "and if they're not, tough beans." With that, Wasserman Schultz abruptly walked away from the microphones.

April 1 will be remembered for the monumental changes it ushered into the 2016 nominating contests on both sides of the aisle. Republicans will have the excitement of a new bracket system and an endless stream of one-on-one debates. Filling out a bracket in advance will become the new game among both the pundits and viewers at home, but it'd be foolish to think this is going to be any easier than guessing the outcome of March Madness basketball. On the Democratic side, rather than chasing the fool's gold of beating Hillary Clinton, there will be a much lower-key contest for the vice presidential slot on the ticket. Yes, the First of April will indeed be remembered this year.

April fools!

Yes, this entire column is complete fiction. In fact, I would go further and state that it is utter blarney. I use the term "blarney" doubtlessly because I have been vacationing in Ireland for the past two weeks. But I couldn't resist posting today, because it's the one day a year I can get away with utter foolishness masquerading as a column. Hope all of you had a prankful day too!

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