Kasich, Christie In as Debate Field Is Finalized
After all the media blitzes, viral stunts, and Trump maneuverings, the race to the prime-time debate stage has come to a close.
Fox News has announced the Top 10 roster for Thursday night’s main event in Cleveland based on an average of five recent national polls. The list includes the New York real estate mogul—which comes as no surprise, as he has been consistently leading the field of late—along with other top-tier dwellers Jeb Bush and Scott Walker.
Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Chris Christie also made the cut.
But the most competitive spot was No. 10, as several low-polling candidates within decimal points of each other have been vying for the prime-time spotlight. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, whose campaign is just three weeks old, nabbed the final place on the podium for the 9 p.m. (Eastern Time) debate, marking one of the fastest rises by a candidate this cycle. (Though, in this climate, a “substantial” rise is one measuring less than three percentage points.)
"It's only fitting that this phase of the Republican presidential nomination begins in Ohio—the Mother of Presidents," Kasich said after the roster was announced. "After all, no Republican has ever won the presidency without Ohio."
The five national polls used for determining the lineup were conducted by Fox News, Bloomberg, CBS News, Monmouth University and Quinnipiac University.
Left off the list are two candidates who have run for president before. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, for whom the debates have taken on an especially important role, given his performance in the 2012 race, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, the often forgotten runner-up for the GOP nomination in 2012.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, former New York Gov. George Pataki, and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina also failed to make the cut, which was determined by an average of the five most recent and vetted national surveys. The candidates who do not qualify for the main stage will participate in a separate debate on Fox News at 5 p.m., also in Cleveland.
In a statement released after the field was announced at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus called the overall field “the biggest and most diverse of any party in history,” adding that “Republicans across the country will be able to choose which candidate has earned their support after hearing them talk through the issues.”
A candidate forum Monday night in New Hampshire, designed to showcase the field in the nation’s first primary state and protest the focus on national polls, underscored how difficult it is to host a crowded field (14 of the 17 candidates participated) in one setting. The format, with each contender given just a few minutes onstage at a time, was more akin to speed dating than a substantive discussion of the issues.
With so many candidates and so little time, the debate outcome on Thursday may boil down to who came up with the most memorable zingers and one-liners. Some observers have argued that the less-populated “happy hour” debate may turn out to have more meaningful exchanges.
The qualification system was crafted after the RNC and national network hosts struggled to find a suitable format to handle the unprecedented large field of candidates this cycle. Both the RNC, which delegated most of the planning to the networks, and Fox News have come under fire for allowing national polls to determine the lineup. Low-polling candidates have been especially vocal in their frustrations with the system.
The RNC decided to limit the number of debates this primary season after seeing the negative impact that too many televised forums had on the party’s chances in 2012 and on the Republican Party brand. But then came the issue of having too many candidates to fit on a stage. The RNC has argued that the new process is the most suitable format for the crowded field.
“This system may not be perfect, but had the RNC not tried to improve the debate process, I can assure you that the debates would be neither this inclusive nor this orderly,” RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, also noting that the committee has secured a wider variety of states for venues along with conservative media outlets to help host the nine scheduled debates.
CNN, which will host the second debate next month in California, is also dividing the field into two slates based on national polling.