The Most Inconsequential Debate

Yesterday I detailed how the leading figures of Iowa's evangelical community have all dilly-dallied about picking a favorite presidential candidate. As if on cue, one of those major players announced that he would be moderating one of the more bizarrely formatted debates of a modern presidential campaign. Rep. Steve King will referee a “modified Lincoln–Douglas debate” between Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain in Texas on November 5.

It should be a bizarre exchange. Gingrich has been expressing an interest of late in a Lincoln-Douglas-style debate where he would no longer face pesky questions from journalists, but it was always in the context of facing Barack Obama in the general election. Where those candidates would readily hammer away at their differences, a Cain-Gingrich matchup should be a dull affair. The two have appeared personally friendly throughout the campaign and won't diverge too substantially on policy.

About the only thing the debate proves is that—despite his rise in recent polls—Herman Cain cannot be taken seriously as a top tier candidate. It's impossible to imagine Mitt Romney or Rick Perry accepting an invitation for a one-on-one debate with a third-tier candidate like Gingrich. If Marco Rubio wasn't guarenteed to be offered the party's second slot, the debate might serve as a test between two possible vice presidential options; instead, it will just be a showcase for two future Fox News analysts.