How to Play Fantasy GOP Debates 2016

It’s a special time if you follow American politics. Especially if you enjoy watching the Grand Ol’ Party struggle to find a basic identity, it’s been a really enjoyable couple of months. And it’s only going to get better.

The beginning of primary debate season is fast approaching, with the first scheduled GOP debate taking place August 6. The field is so big that Fox News (the channel hosting the first farce) is limiting the participating candidates to the top 10 from an average of the 5 most recent nationwide polls.

Such a robust field just invites betting and gamefication. You could easily turn the debates into Republican Bingo or make each a drinking contest. But if you’re looking to up your game this primary season, do what we did and create a fantasy league for the GOP. I should say here that this league would not have been possible without the ingenuity of data nerd Keifer Walsh, who developed much of the infrastructure for our league. Anyway, here’s how to create your own:

Develop a scoring system.

Like Fantasy Football or Fantasy Baseball, successful Fantasy GOP Debate Leagues rely on a thoughtful and thorough point system. We created ours based on the dumb but inevitable points the candidates are sure to make. A breakdown of our points system follows:

Category Attribute Points
Polling (any in-season national poll)
#1 5
#2 4
#3 3
#4 2
#5 1
Debates
General
Attend 5
Refer to Trump’s appearance 5
Compare self to Reagan 3
Any reference to Nazism 3
Announce plans “on Day 1” 1
Healthcare
“Repeal Obamacare” 3
Phase out Medicare 2
“Make Obamacare work” -3
Social
Defund Planned Parenthood 2
Defend traditional marriage 2
War on religion 3
“Gun control isn’t the problem” 2
Foreign Policy
Supports ground troops against ISIS 2
Want better Iran deal 1
Support TPP -1
Domestic Policy
Reject Common Core 1
Global warming is a hoax 3
Right-to-work country/anti-union 2
Immigration
Strengthen border 1
Deportation 3
Suggest illegal immigrants are responsible for crime problem 3

As you can see, our point system rewards teams with candidates more likely to spout off extreme rhetoric. It’s also important to incorporate some scoring that isn’t based on the variables of a debate, so we included average polling position and getting invited to the debate as important benchmarks.

The beauty of this system is that we don’t need playoffs. As the candidates start to drop out, only a few teams will remain. Teams will remain in the league as long as they have at least one eligible candidate and can therefore keep gaining wins. The overall victor will be the team with the most head-to-head victories over the course of the Republican debates.

Select players for your league, and establish a Draft Day protocol. 

With 16 announced GOP contenders, the magic number of participants in our league was 6: two candidates per team, plus a free agency pool of four candidates. As candidates drop out or become more moderate, players will have the option of trading out one of their candidates in order to obtain a different candidate from the free agency pool.

We randomly selected the order of drafting on Draft Day, and we will follow a snake pattern for drafting, wherein the person with the first pick also gets the last pick; the person with the second pick also gets the second-to-last pick; and so on. We will host the draft in real time via Google Hangouts.

Be diligent about data.

On the spreadsheet where we will be tracking this league, we built the foundation for easy data gathering. Our spreadsheet will be able to track up-to-date polls, candidate scores cumulatively and per round, as well as the points earned by each team. In order to accurately keep track of score, you need dedicated team members who will volunteer to watch the debates and accurately award points. That being said, make sure you invite only the people willing to do a little grunt work themselves to your league.

Here’s an outline of our point-tracking system:

Division I
Team Divison Overall WinPct PF PA PD
[NAME] 0 0 0 0 0 0 #DIV/0! 0 0 0
[NAME] 0 0 0 0 0 0 #DIV/0! 0 0 0
[NAME] 0 0 0 0 0 0 #DIV/0! 0 0 0
Division II
Team Divison Overall PF PA PD
[NAME] 0 0 0 0 0 0 #DIV/0! 0 0 0
[NAME] 0 0 0 0 0 0 #DIV/0! 0 0 0
[NAME] 0 0 0 0 0 0 #DIV/0! 0 0 0

Put some skin in the game. 

Let’s be honest—the GOP primary debates have the potential to squander audience interest pretty quickly. So far 11 GOP primary debates have been at least tentatively scheduled, and you can’t expect anything earth-shattering to come from any one of those. To retain the interest of your participants, make winning the league worth something. Whatever that means to your league, think of a prize and settle on it. A little extra motivation will go a long way in ensuring a fun league.


August 6 is coming quickly. That night, I’ll be glued to the TV, cheering for my team as they attempt to out-crazy the others. Let the games begin.

You can download and use our spreadsheet for free here.

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