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Fourth Republican Debate Will Be Dec. 6 in Alabama

The RNC's strategy for culling the herd is to gradually increase the requirements for getting on the debate stage with each subsequent debate. The idea is that if a candidate can't make the stage, he or she is toast. It seems to be working, so the RNC is continuing the plan. For the third debate, five candidates have qualified and one is hanging by a thread. The candidates who definitely qualified are Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, Nikki Haley, and Chris Christie. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) has enough donors but is in trouble pollwise. He needs to hit 4% in two national polls or 4% in one national poll and polls in two early states. He's not there yet, despite having claimed otherwise. Gov. Doug Burgum (R-ND) can go back to North Dakota and play some pick-up basketball and Asa Hutchinson can go back to Arkansas. It was nice knowing you. The third debate will be in Miami on Wednesday. No one expects Trump to show up.

Meanwhile, the RNC has now announced the details and criteria for the fourth debate. It will be held in Tuscaloosa, AL, on Dec. 6. To make it, candidates will need 80,000 donors and 6% in two national polls or 6% in one national poll and polls in two early states. A recent Quinnipiac University poll has Trump at 64%, DeSantis at 15%, and Haley at 8%. They will all make it. However, Scott, Christie, and Ramaswamy are at 3%.

Christie immediately complained about the new requirements. He said: "Why is it 80? Why isn't it 85? Why isn't it 75?" Well, it had to be something, and 80,000 is easier to remember than, say, 76,543. This suggests that he is in trouble. The careful politics-watcher will note that Christie did not complain about arbitrary cutoffs... until we got to one he might not clear.

Scott almost certainly won't make the fourth debate stage, unless he gets virtually all of the Pence donors and voters, which he probably won't do. At that point, he'll have an interesting choice. Does he bow to reality, since failure to make a debate stage is a de facto death knell? Or does he say that the Iowa caucus is just five weeks away, and he might as well roll the dice? His theory (or fantasy) would be: come in second in Iowa, do badly in New Hampshire but dismiss that because the state is white and not religious, come in second in his home state of South Carolina, and then emerge as the "alternative" to Trump. Among the problems with this theory: (1) there's no evidence he is close to a second-place finish in Iowa (Ann Selzer's latest has him a distant fourth place) and (2) Nikki Haley is also from South Carolina, and is likely to join Trump in defeating Scott there.

If things hold as they are right now, debate #4 will be just DeSantis and Haley. That one will be a real slugfest and actually interesting. Once the race becomes Trump vs. one challenger, all the not-Trump voters will probably coalesce to whoever is left standing. If Trump stays at 64%, then getting the other 36% won't do the job right now, but if Trump is convicted of a felony, there will be a clear alternative available. (V)

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