Here's one way to look at the crowded Republican presidential field: an embarrassment of riches - with one very rich embarrassment.
On resumes alone, this is an impressive group: current and former governors and senators, three former presidential candidates, a neurosurgeon and two high-profile business executives, one of whom is far more familiar with the nation's bankruptcy laws than the other.
Those who were disappointed with the breadth, depth and preparedness of the Class of 2012 should take heart. With no front-runner, and with such high-level competition, there's a greater incentive to be ready, both to survive a campaign marathon and then, perhaps, to govern a nation. Most candidates are taking that challenge seriously. (Carly Fiorina, for one, made that clear during her recent stops in Philadelphia.) Sure, there will be cringe-worthy moments, and if someone doesn't actually say "Oops," well, we'll think it from time to time.CartoonsCartoons: The race to the presidency in 2016 More coverageOpinion and analysis about the 2016 presidential campaignCartoonDavies' latest cartoon: HUD or huh?
Logistically, there are issues. For candidates, how to stand out from the pack. For budget-challenged media, how to cover all these people. For the party, how to give all the candidates their due.
Unfortunately, one way to address all those issues is having candidates come together for debates. "Unfortunately" because these events can be disappointing. We're usually not talking Lincoln-Douglas here. At best, it's a chance to sound smart in a sound bite, look good, and, with luck, come across as likable and decent. The larger the group, the smaller the sound bite. So, often, more form than substance.
Understandably, then, the temptation is to narrow the field, giving center stage to leaders in polls or fund-raising. That's Fox News' plan for the first debate Aug. 6. The top 10 candidates, based on averages from the five most recent national polls, will debate, with the rest of the field invited to a 90-minute forum to be shown that afternoon.
As of today, according to realclearpolitics.com, the top 10, both declared and yet to declare, would be former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Dr. Ben Carson, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas, reality-TV star Donald Trump, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
The not-ready-for-prime-time players include former Hewlett-Packard CEO Fiorina, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (2012's GOP runner-up), Ohio Gov. John Kasich (host of the 2016 convention), Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Granted, a potentially unwieldy group. Still, I vote that Fox and the Republican National Committee include everyone.
Again, keep in mind the limits even with 10 participants. Over the course of two hours, each candidate will be lucky to get 10 minutes total of airtime.
So stop thinking of this as a "debate," and see it for what it is: a chance to have all the candidates in one place for a quick question-and-answer session that gives viewers a peek at how these potential presidents stack up against one another.
Instead of stringing them across a stage, construct a curved, two-tiered dais, similar to what you see members of Congress using in hearings. Better yet, one large round table, with the moderator in the middle - in easy striking distance. Plan for about three hours.
DO NOT allow those cloying opening or closing statements (that's why Al Gore invented candidate websites). DO NOT have all 15-plus candidates answer the same question. Instead, after quick introductions, get right to the Q&A, with no more than five candidates answering each question. Then work your way around the table, with each group of "five" getting one question on foreign policy, one on economics, and one on social issues.
It won't be flashy, but I bet it would give those not currently in Fox's top 10 a chance to shine.
Fiorina, for one, who was in Philadelphia recently for the GOP leadership conference. Whether she's talking about ISIS and Russia, expanding economic opportunity, or hot-button social issues, she comes across as measured, calm, strong, prepared and very smart. It's not just what she says that's so impressive but her tone. She should be part of any debate just so potential voters - and her fellow candidates - can be reminded that someone can be both firm in her beliefs and respectful of those who disagree. A rare and valuable commodity. (For examples, look up her recent appearance on "The View" or her lengthy interview with Katie Couric on Yahoo.)
Fiorina is just one reason the debates should be as inclusive as possible. Put all the candidates on stage, and let the viewers decide who has it and who's full of it.
Kevin Ferris is The Inquirer's commentary editor and coauthor of "Unbreakable Bonds: The Mighty Moms and Wounded Warriors of Walter Reed."