For a while there was a lot of glumness among a half dozen or so Republican presidential candidates who feared they would be left out of the first nationally televised GOP candidates’ debate in Cleveland next week.
Fox News, the sponsor of the eagerly awaited political spectacle, originally had set ground rules that would allow only the ten candidates with the highest cumulative scores in the national polls to take part. The other candidates who didn’t make the cut would be relegated to watching the debate on TV along with tens of millions of other viewers – the political equivalent of not getting invited to the senior prom.
This had many candidates – including former Texas governor Rick Perry, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former CEO Carly Fiorina, and even New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich – sweating that they would be left out in the cold and consigned to the back bench.
However, last minute maneuvering by Fox News executives may guarantee that everyone is a winner of sorts, at least in getting some face time on Fox next week. Ironically, the six or so second-tier candidates may stand a better chance of getting their message across than the top candidates who will be struggling to find a way to upstage Donald Trump, who has been burning up the GOP presidential track with his poison-tipped attacks against illegal immigrants and just about anyone who disagrees with his views.
Fox News last month agreed to offer a consolation prize of sorts for those candidates excluded from the main event next week by staging a late afternoon debate for the candidates who didn’t make the cut but who attracted at least one percent in the polls. A last minute change in Fox News’s ground rules this week, first reported by Politico, dropped even the one-percent polling threshold.
“In a concerted effort to include and accommodate the now 16 Republican candidate field -- the largest in modern political history -- Fox News is expanding participation in the 5 p.m. EST debate to all declared candidates whose names are consistently being offered to respondents in major national polls, as recognized by Fox News,” said Michael Clemente, Fox News’ executive vice president for news, in a statement to Politico.
Let’s be clear: Landing a spot on the debate stage next Thursday night beginning at 9 p.m. EST is a big deal. In July, Fox News Channel chalked up its 163rd straight month as the top cable news network, although it showed some slippage. With a total of 1.6 million viewers during prime time Monday through Sunday and 982,000 total viewers during those days, Fox News Channel beats CNN and MSNBC combined, according to TVNewser.
Frontrunners for the debate -- including Trump, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida -- will be pitted against one another under bright lights in a high-profile showdown that will help shape and inform voters’ attitudes – not to mention give a boost to the candidates’ fundraising efforts.
Even so, a ticket to the late afternoon campaign debate on the same day has its virtues, providing lesser known candidates each with an average 10 minutes of national exposure (after commercials and moderation) – and the likelihood that what they say will get plenty of media attention throughout the afternoon and early evening, before the main event gets started in Cleveland.
“This is certainly a fairer setup than relegating the lowly six to the original midday slot,” Larry J. Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist and presidential expert, said on Tuesday. “But the unmistakable signal here is that the six are also-rans, and this will affect their fundraising and volunteer recruitment in addition to overall voter perception. Being placed at the kids' table is damaging, period. “
According to the latest cumulative polling averages of the GOP presidential candidates compiled by Real Clear Politics, here are the top 10:
Donald Trump – 18.2 percent
Jeb Bush – 13.7 percent
Scott Walker – 11.7 percent
Marco Rubio – 6.8 percent
Mike Huckabee – 6 percent
Ben Carson –6 percent
Ted Cruz – 5.7 percent
Rand Paul – 5.7 percent
Chris Christie – 3 percent
John Kasich – 2.2 percent.
And here are the last six:
Rick Perry – 2.0 percent
Rick Santorum – 1.5 percent
Bobby Jindal – 1.3 percent
Carly Fiorina – 1.3 percent
Lindsey Graham – 0.2 percent
George Pataki – no data on Real Clear Politics, most polls show less than 1 percent