Everybody knows the Republican presidential field needs to be trimmed down to a more manageable number of candidates, but do we really want the Fox Business Network or any of the other channels that are hosting these forums to do it? The answer to that question is, of course, no. It may be unfair to Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee to be relegated to the “kid’s table” debate or for Lindsey Graham and George Pataki to be refused entry even to that preliminary that few watch. Yet can we really blame the networks for not wanting to broadcast an event with 14 candidates on one stage vying for attention?

The large field is a tribute both to the depth of the GOP bench of potential presidential contenders and to the fact that the party ought to have a decent chance of winning next year after two terms of Barack Obama. Little about the campaign has gone the way GOP insiders or pundits have thought, but the determination of so many candidates to stay in the race even though they are attracting minimal support shows that they, too, believe that the unpredictability of this election cycle might work to their benefit. Republicans running for president in 2016 are more of less buying a lottery ticket. Most assume that the voters’ infatuations with Donald Trump and Ben Carson will inevitably fade and that one of the more conventional candidates with political experience will be chosen. That may not be true though we’re about to find out if Dr. Carson is as much of a Teflon candidate as Trump as more attention is being paid to the veracity of parts of his biography (scholarship to West Point?) and to some of his goofier statements. But hope still spring eternal even to those hovering around or under the one percent mark in the Real Clear Politics average of polls.

There have been some awful problems in the first three GOP debates involving lousy moderators, but the real drawback to these forums is that it is impossible to have a fair debate with more than ten people on the stage. Inevitably, some get far more airtime than others as some of the candidates on the periphery could have gone out for a meal during the time they’re not being called upon to speak. If we had one debate with all 14 current contenders, it would be an even bigger mess. It must also be pointed out to those who question the need for any cutoff point that without it, anybody calling themselves a GOP candidate could demand entry in the debate.

It’s fair to say that the Fox Business Network’s rules are arbitrary. Kicking out Huckabee and Christie who are currently at 2.6 and 2 percent in the RCP average while letting John Kasich and Rand Paul who are at 3.0 and 2.8 is unfair. Especially when you consider that none of them have a better chance than any of the others. It’s a real blow to Christie since he did so well in the last debate. It’s an even worse blow for Graham to be eliminated altogether since the South Carolinian was just about the only one who made the early debates watchable.

It’s also true that the national polls that are determining who gets to appear probably aren’t reliable indicators of how people will vote across the nation, let alone in the early state primaries and caucuses that will have such a disproportionate impact on the outcome. Considering the importance of the debates in helping to sort out the race, using polls that may not even be accurate in this manner is more than a little crazy.

So maybe the only fair thing to do would be to have all 13 registering at least .5 percent in the polls in while eliminating the ones at zero (sorry, Governor Pataki but you had no business running for president anyway) and eliminate the kiddie debate.

While most of us without an axe to grind sympathize with the plight of the candidates who are being shut out there is a reason why that fair idea won’t be implemented. Though nobody likes it, the fact is, the Republican National Committee is only too happy to have the networks do something that they can’t contemplate but would love to do: eliminate as many of the candidates with no chance as early as possible.

It should be the voters and the polls or the networks who get to trim the GOP field. But the sooner the race gets down to a manageable number of candidates, the quicker we’ll find out if the outliers are for real or if the rising duo of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have the staying power to become credible nominees. The rules the networks are using make little sense but they are acting to winnow a field that is badly in need of having the wheat separated from the chaff. That’s hard luck for Christie and Huckabee — both of whom bring some real perspective and political talent to the table — but nobody being voted off the island in this arbitrary manner was going to win. If after all the attention they’ve gotten so far they can’t manage to equal Kasich and Paul’s awful numbers, it’s better they stop wasting their donors money anyway. The sooner they get off the stage and let the people who might actually be elected president have at each other (and right now that might only be the quartet of Trump, Carson, Rubio and Cruz), the better off the Republican Party will be.

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