The 2016 Republican field for the party’s presidential nomination has swelled to 18 contenders, spanning the full spectrum of notoriety—some from the political establishment, others from the world of private business, and even those that occupy the fringes of political reality. With less than a week to go until the first nationally televised GOP debate, which will be held on Thursday, August 6, in Cleveland, Ohio, it seems that the positions and platforms of the various candidates are taking a backseat to the process by which the lineup for the debate is determined.
Fox News will be hosting the debate at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena, and thereby crafts its own rules and requirements for how the candidates can secure one of 10 spots on stage when the first debate is held. Similar to its standards during the 2012 Republican primary debates, Fox will choose who is invited to participate in the debate based upon a composite of the most recent national polls.
Clearly, such a standard is needed: There are actually over 100 people who have officially filed as candidates for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, the vast majority of them lacking entirely in name recognition (or real credentials). Yet, with only 10 slots in the televised debate and no less than 18 major candidates receiving media attention, even some well-qualified presidential aspirants are going to be left out. Fox has plans for holding a separate forum a few hours prior to the scheduled debate for those candidates that missed the cut.
Who Makes the GOP Debate?
Not everyone is satisfied with the news network’s caucus calculus. Former IRS Commissioner Mark Everson, one of the registered presidential hopefuls receiving only scant attention, is filing a formal complaint with the Federal Election Commission claiming that the debate format is unjust.
“Media coverage is the oxygen of politics, and I’m being denied that by Fox,” Everson asserted, characterizing Fox’s vague and arbitrary standards for who to include in the debate as an “intervention in the political process.”
Everson may have a point. Not only is Fox’s averaging of “5 recent national polls” somewhat undefined, it does no favors to the handful of candidates vying for the last cut-off spot, as the difference in polling percentages between the 10th and 11th place finishers are likely to be less than those polls’ margin of error at this early point in the campaign process.
In lieu of using a composite of national polls, some have suggested using measures similar to a straw poll among a representative sample of voters. Fox has remained silent on Everson’s request, and will proceed as planned.
Among the 18 candidates listed below, the top 8 have all but secured a spot on stage Thursday, while the remaining suitors for the GOP nomination will battle for the final two slots.
- Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida;
- Donald Trump, celebrity billionaire and real estate mogul;
- Scott Walker, current governor of Wisconsin;
- Ted Cruz, current senator from Texas;
- Marco Rubio, current senator from Florida;
- Rand Paul, current senator from Kentucky;
- Ben Carson, retired neurosurgeon;
- Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas -----------------------------------------------------------
- Chris Christie, current governor of New Jersey;
- Rick Perry, former governor of Texas;
- Lindsey Graham, current senator from South Carolina;
- Bobby Jindal, current governor of Louisiana;
- Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard;
- John Kasich, current governor of Ohio;
- Rick Santorum, former senator from Pennsylvania;
- George Pataki, former governor of New York;
- Mark Everson, former IRS Commissioner;
- Jim Gilmore, former governor of Virginia
The Trump Effect
More cause for intrigue surrounding the first GOP debate will be how Fox’s moderators will handle the boisterous antics of Trump, who—for better or for worse—has thrown a wrench in the normal operating of the political process. Several candidates have taken to directly attacking Trump, accusing him of attempting to make a circus out of what ought to be serious debates. While some pundits seem concerned that Trump's approach is forcing other candidates into increasingly outlandish comments in a bid for the media's attention (dubbed the "Trump Effect"), a debate is nonetheless the ideal setting for these presidential hopefuls to respond to "The Donald" and his views.
Moreover, purely based on the metrics used by Fox News to select debate participants, the sentiment that Donald Trump shouldn’t be part of the debate is unfounded: Since Trump has effectively usurped the spotlight with his characteristic showmanship, the outspoken real estate magnate is defying his detractors by currently leading in early polling for the Republican nomination. Undoubtedly, debate moderators Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace will have their hands full.