The ever-increasing number of 2016 candidates highlights a massive problem for the GOP

A Republican primary debate in 2012. AP/Elise Amendola

A seemingly endless string of GOP candidates are announcing their presidential campaigns. 

Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore (R) became the latest candidate to hurl his hat into the ring with a Tuesday interview with a local newspaper

“I don’t think we’re addressing the threat to the country,” Gilmore told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “I bring to the table experience that others don’t have.”

Political observers widely snickered at the announcement. In a GOP primary race already filled with long shots who are sitting governors and senators, Gilmore is an even longer shot. He last held office in 2002 and lost his 2008 US Senate race in Virginia by a crushing 31% margin, according to the Times-Dispatch

Though he faces a steep uphill battle to the White House, Gilmore’s candidacy highlights a larger problem for the Republican Party: 

The ever-increasing number of GOP candidates running for president is undermining the primary debates, which are crucial for lesser-known hopefuls to get their message out.

The conundrum itself isn’t complicated. Too many candidates risks making the debates circus-like, where the stage is crowded with candidates and each gets mere minutes to speak. On the other hand, excluding candidates inevitably enrages their supporters and creates controversy for the GOP and its television network partners.

“One Republican involved in the process said a 90-minute forum with 10 candidates would offer each candidate only four to five minutes, after subtracting commercials and moderator time,” The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin wrote last May.

And there’s going to be more than 10 candidates vying for that stage.

In addition to Gilmore, there are at least 16 other official or likely candidates: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), real-estate magnate Donald Trump, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania), former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), business leader Carly Fiorina, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), former New York Gov. George Pataki (R), and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R).

And that’s not even counting some of the far less-known GOP candidates like Mark Everson, the former IRS commissioner who announced his presidential campaign in March. A perennial candidate named Jack Fellure is also apparently in the mix

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R). Reuters/Gretchen Ertl

Fox News, which hosts the first debate on August 6, will only let the candidates who finish in the top 10 in a national poll average compete in the televised bout. Everyone else will be allowed to participate in a candidate forum certain to draw fewer viewers. CNN, which hosts the second primary debate in September, is reportedly going to use a similar two-tiered setup.

Depending on who makes the final cut, these debates could produce a headache for the GOP and the television network hosts.

“Cutting out lower-ranked aspirants such as former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal would make the first debate of the 2016 season a tableau of men, most of them white — not the image the party wants to promote as it faces an increasingly diverse electorate,” The Washington Post reported last May.

In another potential controversy, Trump has placed No. 2 in a number of polls and seems certain to qualify for the debates. But some Republican party elites very much want him bumped from the stage in exchange for someone they would view as a more serious contender. 

“Someone in the party ought to start some sort of petition saying, ‘If Trump’s going to be on the stage, I’m not going to be on there with him,'” Republican donor John Jordan told the AP earlier this week. “I’m toying with the idea of it.”

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