One of the Republican National Committee’s top officials has hinted that Wednesday’s “undercard” debate may have been the last as the 2016 presidential race moves forward.
It’s unclear what that could mean for Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose low polling nationally has kept him out of the two prime-time GOP debates and relegated him to the less-watched, earlier events.
CNBC will host the next GOP debate on Oct. 28.
“I doubt that there will be an undercard,” RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer said on CNN’s “At This Hour” Thursday.
Jindal, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and former New York Gov. George Pataki took part in the most recent lower-tier debate that aired on CNN Wednesday. Eleven other GOP candidates hit the main stage for a three-hour showdown during prime time that drew more than three times as many viewers.
Jindal was handed the first question Wednesday — about GOP front-runner Donald Trump — in what’s been dismissively dubbed as the “kiddie table” debate, because he recently has built a strategy around slamming the bombastic billionaire reality TV star.
“The struggle here is writing any sort of analysis that pretends that it wasn’t obvious to everyone watching that none of the other three candidates are in the same league as Bobby Jindal,” Leon Wolf wrote on RedState.com.
Internet search trends and social media appeared to also indicate interest in Jindal among viewers.
But it remains to be seen whether Jindal will see any polling boost from his performance that would bolster an argument from Jindal for inclusion in the main event, should the lower-tier debate be shelved. Prior to Wednesday’s debate, Jindal was polling below 1 percent nationally, according to Real Clear Politics’ average.
Both pale in comparison to viewership of the main event. CNN’s debate this week had 22.9 viewers — a record for the cable giant. Fox News’ prime-time debate also set a record with 24 million viewers.
Fox News announced plans for a lower-tier, earlier debate amid concerns over the company’s original plan limiting the stage to 10 participants. Several campaigns and others had called on Fox to accommodate the lower-polling candidates. CNN, facing potential backlash over the exclusion of Carly Fiorina from the main stage, then broadened its criteria for candidates to make it to the prime-time event.
CNBC has not released any details about the criteria that candidates will have to meet to be included in its debate. The cable channel didn’t respond to a request from The Advocate for comment.
On “At This Hour,” Spicer said RNC leaders have not met with CNBC to discuss debate details yet, and CNBC hasn’t revealed the debate criteria, which it officially gets to set. That will happen in the coming weeks, he said.
But he said he thinks the race is approaching a point where more candidates will ditch their campaigns, and it will become easier to see who has the attention worthy of being on the main debate stage. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry became the first Republican to drop out last week.
“I think we have to look at where the race is going,” Spicer said. “Are there still that many candidates that justify a second debate on debate night?”
He didn’t speculate how many candidates might be featured but noted that he thought Wednesday night’s main stage looked “crowded.”
Jindal’s campaign, meanwhile, is signaling that he isn’t planning on abandoning the race anytime soon. He was scheduled to hold a fundraiser in New Orleans Thursday night, and he is set to resume a campaign tour through all 99 counties in Iowa this weekend. On Friday, he’ll take part in a South Carolina forum for presidential candidates.
Believe Again, a pro-Jindal political action committee, recently announced events in Iowa through the state’s Feb. 1 caucuses.