There probably will be two separate debates for the GOP presidential candidates — with as many as 10 candidates in each. That’s because debate sponsors think having 20 candidates on the same stage would be at least 10 too many.
The math is persuasive: If there are 20 candidates in a 90-minute debate -- minus time for the moderator, questions from journalists, network promos — that would leave only about three minutes per candidate. True, the more boring candidates might make it seem like five minutes, but still, having so many candidates wouldn’t allow enough time for substance or gaffes.
Donald Trump’s rise in recent polls means he’d qualify for a top-10 debate if the criterion is popularity. Republican leaders worry that he’d turn a debate into a circus or mudslinging contest — either of which non-Republicans would find entertaining. But as bellicose and nutty as The Donald can be, some of the other candidates can be just as controversial.
Chris Christie, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul and Rick Santorum have all proven that they know how to sling phrases that can ricochet — and backfire.
What if, instead of polling deciding the top 10 candidates, there were two debates based on entertainment value. In one debate, there would be the more reserved candidates — like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Lindsey Graham, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich and George Pataki.
And there’d be a more raucous debate with the, uh, outspoken candidates. Imagine how that might go ....
Chris Christie: “I’m the only one here speaking the truth about entitlements.”
Ted Cruz: “Hold on, I’m the one who just wrote a book called, 'A Time for Truth.' "
Donald Trump: “Truth? You can’t handle the truth. I’m Donald Trump – I could buy all the truth in North America and still have enough to loan this guy money for a decent suit.”
Bobby Jindal: “I resent that. I bought this suit in New Orleans. And my Trump tie was made in China.”
Trump: “It’s a beautiful tie. But we’ve got to put China out of business.”
Mike Huckabee: “Talk about putting people out of business, what about bakers and florists who don’t want to participate in gay weddings?! That’s the issue we’ve got to address.”
Rick Santorum: “Gay rights and wrongs? That was my issue when I won Iowa four years ago, but I didn’t see you at the State Fair, Mike. I didn’t see you at the corn dog stand. You were too busy playing your guitar on your TV show. Now you show up and talk about God, guns, gophers and gravy?”
Ben Carson: “As the only doctor here — a non-politician — I know that corn dogs can kill you. Chris Christie, you know what I’m talking about.”
Christie: “No, I really don’t. I’d like to get back to entitlement reform.”
Rand Paul: “I’d like to weigh in on that, Chris. I am the only libertarian here, so when I say we need entitlement reform, I’m credible. I think we need to cut all the fat out of government, and then we can cut some of the gristle, bone and muscle. Let’s take our country back.”
Trump: “’Take our country back’? That’s my trademarked slogan. Expect to hear from my lawyers.”
Huckabee: “Let’s not get litigious; let’s get religious. Mr. Trump, you say you’re for traditional marriage, yet you’ve been married three times.”
Trump: “Three beautiful women, yes — they all wanted to marry me. I’m not going to apologize for that. They had their reasons for wanting me. I’m really rich, and very, very smart. An I.Q. number that the haters and losers couldn’t even count to. I’m not boasting. What was your question?”
Huckabee: “Never mind.”
Carson: “If I were a different kind of doctor — a psychiatrist — I’d be able to help you, Donald. I’m just a surgeon. But I know what ails this country.”
Santorum: “I know what ails Iowa. And that’s why I’m running. If the rest of the country was like Iowa, we wouldn’t even need a federal government.”
Jindal: “We don’t need a Supreme Court, that’s for sure.”
Trump: “None of my corporate bankruptcies ever even got to the Supreme Court, and yet people call it the highest court in the land. I don’t think so.”
Cruz: “I argued before the Supreme Court. I have argued wherever I have gone. That’s what we need in this country: arguments that will settle our arguments.”
Christie: “Sit down and shut up. Now, back to entitlement reform ... ”
Huckabee: “No, we should be talking about religious liberty. Like that god-awful tie Bobby is wearing – that is his right. I don’t care if it was made by non-Christians.”
Jindal: “It’s a Trump tie. When I bought it, I didn’t realize it was made in China.”
Trump: “At least the Chinese aren’t sneaking over our border like this Mexican here.”
Cruz: “I’m Cuban-American. Well, Cuban-Canadian-American. Just call me American.”
Trump: “Look, I don’t know how you got into my country; that’s not my problem. But if I’m elected President, I am going to be the greatest jobs president that God ever created.”
Huckabee: “I don’t think God creates presidents.”
Santorum: “No, I think Iowa does that.”
Christie: “Fat chance, loser.”
Trump: “Hey, you can’t say ‘loser’. I’ve got that trademarked. You’ll be hearing from my lawyers.”
Todd Domke is a Republican political analyst for WBUR.