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To: Interested Parties

From: Andrew Langer
Date: January 30, 2019
Re: Solution for Problem of Debates in Crowded Presidential Primaries

The Problem: Presidential Primaries with more than 4 Candidates present challenges for major
parties in how candidate debates are held. Candidates are limited in their debate time, nothing is
gained in terms of public impressions beyond a few sound bites, and in the case of primary fields
of more than 8 candidates, major parties are forced to separate candidates into two tiers and hold
debates for each of those tiers.

Furthermore, any series of multi-tiered debates will lead to accusations of favoritism and a lack
of equity. A new, more-transparent, more democratized system would benefit both the public
discourse and the election process.

The Solution: Use new rules and commercially-available technologies to augment the intra-
party debate system into something less-centralized, more equitable and transparent, and easier
to utilize.

The Proposal


It was readily apparent from the 2016 Republican Primary field that the Republican National
Committee was ill-equipped to handle the crowded field of candidates—especially when it came
to primary debates. This idea was born out of my viewing (and, in some instances, re-viewing)
these debates—debates which gave the average viewer nothing more than a few short glimpses
of each candidate, and the only memorable moments were a few glimpses of fireworks from
several candidates, and these were really of marginal utility overall.

Generally, all elections are binary choices – voters are choosing between Candidate A and
Candidate B. Even in elections in which there are more than two candidates, very rarely are
voters evenly split amongst all the candidates. They have narrowed them down to two principal
possibilities and are looking find ways to compare and contrast these two candidates, to see how
they stack up specifically against one another.

With crowded fields, this becomes more and more difficult to do. Obviously, people see what
they see of a candidate on a campaign trail, but the whole point of debates is to give voters a
deeper glimpse into how candidates differ from one another. But in a two-hour debate in which
there are eight candidates on stage, this becomes next to impossible. At most, given time for
questions, time for introductions, times for pauses and breaks, each candidate gets something far-
less than fifteen minutes of screen time – and the public is left with getting only soundbites and
verbal jabs.

Worse, they are really unable to place two candidates side-by-side. This is especially true in a
two-tier debate system, in which you already have one set of candidates stigmatized by being
placed in a “lower tier” debate. If someone wants to compare a Tier 1 candidate to a Tier 2
candidate, this becomes a difficult exercise.

The question them becomes: can we create a primary debate process which allows us to
augment the current debate system in a way so that candidates can be directly assessed next to
one another? The answer is a resounding yes. A new debate structure can be created that
serves the public interest, is cost-effective, and will produce information that is deeply

A New Debate Structure

This proposal is meant to supplement the existing, televised, mass-debates. Major news
networks love hosting them, love the ratings and easily-digestible sound bites that are produced.
This memo is not a suggestion to scrap them.

But as the third decade of the 21st Century approaches, there is no reason to remain beholden to
that structure, entirely. New technologies have reduced the cost of production and distribution of
video media to the point where it is both cost-effective and (relatively) easy for someone to
create such material.

The suggestion starts with this simple concept: each candidate in a crowded primary will
debate every other candidate in that primary (in fact, it doesn’t even have to be all that
crowded a primary but given what we are seeing from one of the major parties going into 2020
this won’t be a problem). Starting with six months from the first primary vote, the party starts
laying out a schedule wherein the candidates start debating one another (this also behooves
candidates to announce and file early on, so that they can get into the schedule).

Assume that the primary field has 20 candidates. Each week, there will be 10 one-hour debates
(with a structure laid out below). These debates will be streamed live – on the party’s website or
a website like YouTube or Facebook (or all three). They will be archived in both video format
and audio format (ie, podcasted). The next week, the schedule shifts, and there are ten more
debates, with each candidate debating someone else, and so on, until they have all debated one

The Party can suspend a debating schedule in the week or two before a mass-debate, but by the
time the first primary contest is held, voters will be able to see how each candidate measures up,
directly, against another candidate they might be considering.

Debates can be held at the party’s headquarters in Washington, DC… but they can also be held
out on the campaign trail (given how easy it is to transport the simple equipment necessary). In
fact, let’s look at resources needed (for each team – and I’m assuming 3 or 4 teams):
• A room for the debate with access to high speed internet.
• 3 or 4 HD Webcams (one for each candidate, or for both candidates, one for the
moderator, one for the group)
• 3 microphones (one for each candidate, one for the moderator)
• 1 USB-enabled mixing board
• 1 latest-edition laptop.
• The necessary cabling

Beyond that, obviously, there are staffing needs at work, as well as travel expenses. There would
have to be an executive producer and someone working for that producer, in order to facilitate
scheduling. Some sort of IT professional to help train and troubleshoot for each individual
production team. Each team would really only require two people – someone political and
someone on the production side. The political person would handle the relations, in the field,
between the party and the candidates and facilitate the production of each debate. The field
producer would run the equipment itself – set up the mics, set up the cameras, get the stream and
recording set up, and then ensure that the broadcast happened – switching between cameras
during the debate.

So, assume a total team of ten people: four in Washington, DC, and then three teams of 2 people
in the field, handling these debates.

Given the portability of such equipment, so long as there is access to a fast and stable internet
connection, such debates can be done anywhere.

Each debate would also require a moderator. But this is an opportunity for a political party to
continue to build relationships in new and traditional media. In any locality, there are local
television, radio, podcast and blogging personalities who would jump at the chance to moderate
one of these presidential primary debates.

The Debate Structure Itself

Each debate would be approximately one hour in length (though that can be fluid, since we are
not operating under the constraints of live television scheduling). There would be a coin-toss in
order to determine order (candidates could choose to make introductory statements first, or to
have the last word in the debate). Then the structure is as follows:

• Introduction from the Moderator (1 Minute)

• Candidate Introductions (3 minutes apiece)
• 6 Substantive Questions (each candidate gets three to respond to first)
o Candidate A answers (4 mins)
o Candidate B responds (3mins)
o Candidate A rebuts (1min)
• Closing Remarks (2 Minutes apiece)
With each question from the moderator being under twenty seconds in length, this debate format
“clocks in” at 61 minutes, with each candidate getting TWENTY NINE MINUTES of screen
time to lay out their candidacy in a substantive format. In the end, assuming 19 debates for each
candidate, each candidate would have almost ten hours of on-camera time (as opposed to less
than ninety minutes of screen time in the system as it is currently being planned – one debate
each month for six months for the field of announced candidates).

Buy-In From Candidates

This is all assuming participation from these candidates—and I firmly believe that they will
participate for the following reasons:

1. It gives them more opportunities for both free-publicity and earned media.
2. It gives them greater opportunity for sound-bites from opponents.
3. For “lower-tier” candidates, it gives them the opportunity to finally go one-on-one
against a better-funded candidate and show off their skills.
4. For “upper-tier” candidates, it gives them the opportunity to cement why they are upper-
tier, and to help “clear the field”.

On the issue of “clearing” the field – schedules can be easily adjusted to accommodate when
candidates drop out. It becomes more-difficult when candidates decide to get in the Presidential
Race late, but parties can adopt rules accordingly. This system incentivizes early adopters and
should discourage candidates who are indecisive late in the game.


The 2020 Democratic Primary field is going to be a crowded one. It is entirely possible that,
depending on who wins the presidency in 2020, that both major political parties could face
crowded primaries in 2024. We need a new system of debates in order to accommodate these
candidates and best serve the interests of the voters.

Implementing this round-robin system would be cost-effective, entertaining, and highly-

informative to the American people.

For more information or discussion, please email me at . I have

outlined loose budgetary numbers.