The 2016 Republican Primary Debate Schedule

2008 Republican Candidate Debate.

Below is the 2016 Republican Primary Debate Schedule, with a number of debates held between August, 2015 and February 2016.

The 2016 schedule cut the number of debates by roughly half compared to the 2012 presidential race, and pushed the first debate back by two months, and spreads out the schedule in a more even fashion, ending the front-loading seen in the previous cycle. There is only one debate in each month of 2015, with the first taking place in August.

There was one debate scheduled for Iowa in January ahead of the Iowa caucuses. The only multi-debate months are January and February, right as the primary schedule picked up steam. This was initially seen as an ideal scenario as the number of candidates in the field will have likely narrowed significantly and the remaining challengers will have significant time to make their case to a majority of voters. However, it did not quite work out as planned.

The new condensed debate schedule also coordinated with the equally condensed 2016 primary schedule. The new scheduling process was intended to prevent the debate/primary/caucus season from lasting roughly 16 months, as it did in 2012. With the first debate launching in August, 2015, and the Republican convention in July, 2016, the 2016 primary session will clock in at under a year while giving the eventual nominee extra time to organize and raise funds.

Avoiding a 2012 Scenario

In 2012, Republicans held 20 debates, with the first being held in May of that year, followed by a second in June. Mitt Romney did not participate in the first one and it was widely viewed as unnecessary. Eleven of the 20 debates were held more than 6 weeks before the first votes were cast in Iowa.

As a result, candidates were forced to spend their early months debating and preparing for debates rather than working on the ground. There were typically eight candidates at any given debate, leaving little time for each candidate to speak overall, and there were simply too many, too early to see the benefits.

This schedule is part of the RNC's desire to better control the debate process going forward. RNC Chairman Reince Preibus further elaborated on the scheduling decision:

“By constructing and instituting a sound debate process, it will allow candidates to bring their ideas and vision to Americans in a timely and efficient way.  This schedule ensures we will have a robust discussion among our candidates while also allowing the candidates to focus their time engaging with Republican voters.  It is exciting that Republicans will have such a large bench of candidates to choose from, and the sanctioned debate process ensures voters will have a chance to gain a chance to hear from them


2016 Republican Debate Schedule

August 2015

TV Network: Fox News
Location: Ohio

September 2015

TV Network: CNN
Location: California (Ronald Reagan Presidential Library)

October 2015

TV Network: CNBC
Location: Colorado

November 2015

TV Network: Fox Business
Location: Wisconsin

December 2015

TV Network: CNN
Location: Nevada

January 2015

TV Network: Fox News
Location: Iowa

*Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary

February 2016

TV Network: ABC News
Location: New Hampshire

TV Network: CBS News
Location: South Carolina

TV Network: NBC and Telemundo
Location: Florida

*Small number of Primaries held, likely to include South Carolina and North Carolina

Cancelled Debates

The Republican National Committee had also announced a few other dates, including a "conservative media debate" with locations pending. However, these debates did not take place. One scheduled debate following the March 15 contests was cancelled when reality TV star and frontrunner Donald Trump backed out. Ohio Governor John Kasich then backed out of the debate, and it was cancelled.

Despite the race actually getting more interesting - and a contested convention starting to seem possible - no further debates were announced.

Ultimately, the debate format ended in a pretty big failure. A dozen debates were held with as many as ten candidates, forcing little true discussion of issues and differences. By the time the field had narrowed, the candidates stopped debating. This probably helped Donald Trump the most, as it did not give Ted Cruz an opportunity to debate Trump for an extended time.