Wednesday's season finale of American Political Gladiators

CNN will host the 20th game-show-like debate of the GOP campaign season tonight. And with any luck, it'll be the last

Edward Morrissey

My, how the time has flown. On Wednesday night, the Republican candidates for president will meet for the 20th time in this cycle, a stretch that started on May 5, 2011, in Greenville, S.C. It may surprise people to recall that only two of the current four candidates participated in that event: Rick Santorum and Ron Paul. Of the other three participants, Tim Pawlenty and Herman Cain exited the race long before the first votes were cast in the Iowa caucuses, and Gary Johnson never seriously contended. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich joined the debate club in June at the second official debate, and a cast of also-rans came and went between debate No. 1 and debate No. 20.

Even the numbering sequence is open to, er, debate. No one would count the Lincoln-Douglas-style debate between Gingrich and Cain, although it may have been one of the most informative of the series. Should we count Mike Huckabee's well-regarded forums, in which he questioned each candidate individually? If so, Wednesday's is the 22nd debate, not the 20th. And Sen. Jim DeMint's "Palmetto Freedom Forum" missed Santorum, Rick Perry, and Jon Huntsman, but did include three of the four contenders on Survivor: Republican Island. Nevertheless, in official debate history, it remains a nonsanctioned event.

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Edward Morrissey

Edward Morrissey has been writing about politics since 2003 in his blog, Captain's Quarters, and now writes for His columns have appeared in the Washington Post, the New York Post, The New York Sun, the Washington Times, and other newspapers. Morrissey has a daily Internet talk show on politics and culture at Hot Air. Since 2004, Morrissey has had a weekend talk radio show in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and often fills in as a guest on Salem Radio Network's nationally-syndicated shows. He lives in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota with his wife, son and daughter-in-law, and his two granddaughters. Morrissey's new book, GOING RED, will be published by Crown Forum on April 5, 2016.