In presidential debates, two’s company and seven’s a crowd.
But 16 is a mess.
Still, according to assorted expert tallies, there will soon be that many candidates for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
So how many of them will rate a spot on the stage at the first GOP debate on Aug. 6 in Cleveland (Ohio, not S.C.) on Fox News?
Politico reported Saturday that a “consensus” of party officials wants to cap that starting debate lineup at 12.
How? By money raised and/or extremely early poll standing? Wouldn’t that risk diluting the already-thin gender and racial presidential-candidate diversity for a party that for far too long has gotten far too few non-male and non-white votes?
Sure, trying to fully hear out 16 (or even just 12) candidates during a 90-minute (or even a 180-minute) debate would be futile.
Then again, forcing politicians to more quickly make their self-serving points sounds appealing.
And brevity isn’t just the soul of wit, as Polonius observes in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” It’s the best way for a candidate to avoid overtaxing the severely limited attention span of a low-information voter.
However, cutting Oval Office aspirants’ pitches short doesn’t merely diminish the public’s ability to size them up. It degrades our presidential-selection process into a sort of “Bachelor” or “Bachelorette” spectacle of unreality TV.
Meanwhile, around here we’re enduring the national humiliation of the perversely misnamed “Southern Charm.” Insightfully chronicled by Post and Courier colleague Liz Foster, that unseemly show has rehashed last year’s long-on-pub, short-on-votes U.S. Senate bid by our local disgraced ex-state treasurer.
Back to the GOP’s congested presidential chase:
The NCAA basketball tournament starts with 68 teams, then rapidly gets down to the Sweet 16.
Why not, instead of subjecting 16 presumptive presidents to waiting too long for too-short turns in “debates” that aren’t really that, give them fair and balanced time to truly debate another candidate?
Ponder the enlightening potential of a Lindsey Graham-Rand Paul showdown:
Our senior senator and Kentucky’s junior senator have very different ideas about how to use the U.S. military — and the National Security Agency. Putting the two of them together for an hour and a half to argue about those and other issues could clarify not just the right course forward for their party, but our nation.
Now ponder these matchups, seeded like a 16-team NCAA regional, for mano-y-mano one-on-one debates:
No. 1 Marco Rubio vs. No. 16 George Pataki, No. 2 Jeb Bush vs. No. 15 Donald Trump, No. 3 Scott Walker vs. No. 14 Carly Fiorina, No. 4 Ted Cruz vs. No. 13 Ben Carson, No. 5 Paul vs. No. 12 Graham, No. 6 Chris Christie vs. No. 11 John Kasich, No. 7 Rick Perry vs. No. 10 Bobby Jindal, No. 8 Rick Santorum vs. No. 9 Mike Huckabee.
Those subjective seedings, based not on personal preference but on slippery nomination probabilities, are subject to, well, debate.
So are the NCAA’s basketball, football and baseball seedings.
Ideally, debate losers would drop out. A second round could narrow the field to an Elite Eight, a third round to a Final Four.
Then the one-on-one debates would end, four-candidate debates would begin, and primary voters would choose from the surviving quartet.
Of course, the candidates would never agree to any public and/or expert assessment of winners in those one-on-one debates.
Anyway, too many Americans prefer the chaotic spectacle of a 16-candidate free-for-all over the orderly alternative of a two-candidate discussion.
And hey, battle royals with 16 — or more — professional wrestlers in the ring at once consistently produce unexpected, unfair and unholy alliances fraught with fascinating intrigue and betrayal.
In other words, rasslin’ and politics have a lot in common.
It’s tempting to dismiss Trump’s latest presidential-run flirtation as a publicity stunt akin to the one he pulled in 2012 before backing Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination.
But Trump has a South Carolina campaign team in place, including state Rep. Jim Merrill of Daniel Island.
Remember, too, that in 2007 “The Donald” managed Bobby Lashley to victory over Umaga, managed by WWE CEO Vince McMahon, in a “Hair vs. Hair” match (aka “Battle of the Billionaires”) at Wrestlemania 23 at Detroit’s Ford Field.
Then, as previously stipulated by those high-hair-stakes rich guys, Trump and Lashley shaved McMahon’s head.
So don’t count out anybody yet in the no-holds-barred squared circle of presidential politics.
And don’t complain about there being too many GOP presidential candidates.
After all, lots of Democrats now wish they had more of their own.
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.