Well I certainly would have had more time to watch pro wrestling. Did the sheer number of debates help the joke candidates who had no hope of winning the presidential election. I looked at the Real Clear Politics polling average for Iowa and looked at the debate schedule. Michelle Bachmann took the lead in Iowa after the second debate. Cain took the lead in Iowa after the seventh debate. Gingrich took the lead after the tenth debate. After all thirteen pre-Iowa debates, the two top finishers were Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney who were probably the two best national candidates of the bunch.
One story you could tell is that the more debates the better since the weakest of the joke candidates (Bachmann and Cain) did best in the earliest parts of the process. Then again, maybe the lesson is that Iowa voters’ opinions of candidates don’t count for much the July before the Caucuses. Paid media (especially Romney and Ron Paul attack ads against Gingrich) probably had a lot to do with the final result. In the context of the 2012 presidential nomination, fewer debates might have benefited the most demagogic candidates. But it is worth noting that Bachmann’s support collapsed when Perry entered the race and not because of anything that happened in the debates. Cain had to withdraw because of a scandal with a woman not his wife (his campaign would have fallen apart anyway as his tax plan became more widely understood.) Gingrich faltered in the later debates when he became a target of the other candidates.
I would start the debating process later in the 2016 cycle, but otherwise I wouldn’t draw too many conclusions from the 2012 cycle debates. Running for president shouldn’t be a full-time job twenty months before the election. Starting the debating season too early puts sitting governors at a disadvantage. But the Republicans shouldn’t limit debates too much. Sustained scrutiny is a good thing.