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The 'traveling circus' the RNC can't stop

Reince Priebus had a plan: end his party's "traveling circus" by curtailing the 2016 debates. But the candidates don't need a debate platform to make a mess.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus waits for the start of the U.S. vice presidential debate in Danville, Kentucky, October 11, 2012.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus waits for the start of the U.S. vice presidential debate in Danville, Kentucky, October 11, 2012.
Nearly two years ago, with his party still licking its wounds after a rough 2012 cycle, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus looked ahead to the 2016 presidential race and focused on a specific goal: far fewer debates.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said Friday he was trying to stop the party's primary process from transforming into a "traveling circus." "Quite frankly, I'm someone -- I don't think having our candidates running around in a traveling circus and doing 23 debates, slicing and dicing each other is in the best interests of our party," Priebus said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

There's little doubt that Priebus' concerns were rooted in fact. The 2012 debates for the Republican presidential candidates were often entertaining, but they didn't do any favors for the aspirants themselves. When the Republican National Committee sharply curtailed the total number of debates for the 2016 race -- and prioritized events on Fox -- it didn't come as a surprise.
But as the Republicans' presidential field takes shape, it's becoming increasingly clear that the "traveling circus" is not wholly dependent on debates -- a circus needs clowns, stunts, and acrobatics, and the likely 2016 candidates are already providing plenty of antics for our viewing pleasure.
* The entire party is facing a curious new litmus test about whether President Obama is a patriot and a Christian. It's a test Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is failing badly.
* This comes on the heels of a vaccinations litmus test that Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) failed -- one of many key issues the senator doesn't seem to understand.
* Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) is desperate to prove he's his "own man" by hiring his brother's and his father's team of advisers, and advancing his ambitions with his brother's and his father's team of donors.
* New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) operation appears to be moving backwards -- his vaccinations flub didn't help -- as his popularity falls quickly in his home state.
* Right-wing neurosurgeon Ben Carson (R) has positioned himself as a rare candidate who supports war crimes.
* The closer Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) gets to launching his campaign, the more some party officials plead with him not to run.
* Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) wants states to pursue nullification if the Supreme Court endorses marriage equality.
* Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) seems eager to say and/or do anything to get attention.
* A variety of GOP candidates have set up private meetings with Donald Trump.
The Greatest Show on Earth? Probably not, though it's clear the "traveling circus" is well underway, and there's very little Reince Priebus can do about it.
The problem isn't the debates, per se. Rather, it's the candidates themselves who run the risk of embarrassing themselves and their party. As the last few weeks have reminded us, they don't need a debate platform to cause trouble.