Fox News Sets Lineup For First Republican Debate

Donald Trump is center stage, John Kasich is in, and Rick Perry is relegated to the kid's table.

Fox News Republican Debate Lineup

Fox News has announced the lineup for Thursday’s Republican Presidential debate, and it’s about what we expected:

Fox News has announced the line-up for the prime-time Republican presidential debate this Thursday, and here’s who qualified:

Real estate magnate Donald Trump; former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson; Texas Sen. Ted Cruz; Florida Sen. Marco Rubio; Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

The roster of 10 candidates was determined based on an average of the five most recent national polls. Trump as expected made the cut, as did Bush and Walker, who have each posted strong numbers in recent surveys.

The drama, rather, was at the edge of the top 10. Christie and Kasich, who were hovering by that edge in recent polling, were able to qualify.

But former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and several others will not be on the prime-time, 9 p.m. ET stage. The seven who did not make the top 10 will be invited to a separate 5 p.m. ET debate. Aside from Perry and Santorum, this includes Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal; former HP head Carly Fiorina; South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham; former New York Gov. George Pataki; and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore.

The five polls included in the average that determined the line-up were conducted by Bloomberg, CBS News, Fox News, Monmouth University and Quinnipiac University.

The debates, hosted by Fox News and Facebook in conjunction with the Ohio Republican Party, will be held at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.

With the campaign lately being rocked by Trump’s rise in the polls above the jam-packed field, though, the big question is how the other nine candidates will hold their own on the prime-time stage — and whether Trump will remain the front-runner after his debate debut.

For political outsiders like Trump and Carson, Democratic strategist Doug Schoen said, “The question is are they ready, literally and metaphorically, for prime-time?”

The debate will test whether they can articulate a “cogent narrative of what they’ll do to promote and provoke change in our country,” Schoen said.

Analysts have warned that Trump, whose bomb-throwing persona has seemingly fueled his climb, stands to lose traction if he can’t command the stage.

Steve Deace, who hosts a conservative radio talk show in the Hawkeye State, said: “His entire campaign is based on him being a blunt instrument” and if he holds back, “that would be the death knell for him.

Given how the polling has been going for the past week, with Kasich and Christie rising in the polls while Perry fell, this is about the result that everyone was expecting today. As I noted earlier, there was some speculation that Fox News would end up making an exception to its rules and bringing Perry into the main debate given the fact that he had run for President before and had served as a Governor for over a decade. Had he ended up closer in the average to Christie and Kasich, it’s possible that this would have happened since you could make a plausible case that a difference of a few tenths of a percentage point in a polling average doesn’t really amount to very much. However, because Perry has been declining in the polls for the better part two weeks now he now stands nearly a full percentage point behind Kasich and Christie, although he still outperforms everyone else in the bottom seven who will be participating in the consolation debate that airs at 5pm on Thursday afternoon. Given that, it would have been something of a stretch to drag Perry into the main debate, especially since adding an eleventh person to that debate would make a situation that already seems quite unmanageable quite chaotic and even less substantive than the rules that Fox News has already established are likely to allow.

No doubt, several of the candidates who are being relegated to what is being referred to as the “Kid’s Table Debate” will complain about the arbitrariness of Fox News’s decision here, but it seems to me that they’ve made the best of a very difficult situation. In a different year, it would fair to say that candidates with substantive political records like George Pataki and Lindsey Graham should be allowed to participate in the first round of debates. This is not a typical year, however. We have seventeen announced arguably credible candidates for the Republican nomination, this is the largest field that either party has seen in decades and may well be the largest field that any party has ever fielded for a Presidential race in American history. Seventeen people on a debate stage is simply unmanageable and would not lead to anything informative for voters. Therefore, it is entirely reasonable for Fox News and CNN, which is staging the second debate in September, to set some kind of reasonable criteria for participation, and the Top Ten candidates in the most recent polls seems as if it is the most reasonable option available. Additionally, while it’s unlikely that any of the seven candidates in the consolation debate will ever be a contender for the nomination, they arguably might have a better chance of breaking through with the public in a forum that wasn’t dominated by outsized personalities like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Who knows, maybe one of these seven will do well enough to push themselves into the top ten for the CNN debate. If they weren’t being given a consolation forum at all, I could see the grounds for these candidates to complain, but they will still getting airtime and it will be up to them to get their message across. If they fail, they’ve got nobody to blame but themselves.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. CSK says:

    I wonder if Trump will bow out at the last minute. He’s been saying openly that he’s not a debater, but a doer. And he refused to participate in the New Hampshire forum on the grounds that the Union-Leader wrote a mean editorial about him. It sounds to me as if he either doesn’t want to share the stage, or that he’ll be outgunned by his opponents.

    For an alleged tough guy, he’s an awfully frail little flower.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    I think Trump is riding the tiger and if he jumps off he’s done for. He’s alienated vast segments of any potential future audience. He’s been fired by NBC and divorced by a dozen companies. His brand is badly damaged. If he punks out now he’s done for good, he’ll be a laughing stock like Perot.

  3. Pinky says:

    Who knows, maybe one of these seven will do well enough to push themselves into the top ten for the CNN debate.

    I think the opposite is more likely, that one or more of the ten will do poorly enough to get sent back to the minors.

  4. Grumpy Realist says:

    @CSK: oh, that would be priceless….I think Trump’s ego is too big to keep him off this sort of stage.

  5. Grumpy Realist says:

    P. S. Considering how everyone else on the stage with an actual non-political profession is listed as being “retired” from that profession, I wonder if any of the reporters are ever going to ask Trump how he plans to be POTUS and run his empire at the same time?

  6. CSK says:

    @Grumpy Realist:

    I’m more interested if someone will ask him how he managed, for the first time in the history of the human race, to bankrupt a casino.

  7. Paludicola says:

    I’d honestly forgotten that George Pataki was contesting the nomination.

    This is going to be a circus. A ten-man argument will almost always be a cacophonous mess. When Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Chris Christie are among those men, it’s guaranteed to be utter bedlam, which I will remind everybody is a word derived from a insane asylum.

  8. Tony W says:

    I appreciate that the Republican party has finally just admitted that Fox News runs the place – so they are free to go ahead and pick our candidates. We’re good. The other networks can choose from those who emerge relatively unscathed from this debate.

  9. Franklin says:

    @Paludicola: You are brilliant – they should get Nurse Ratched to be the moderator!

  10. Pinky says:

    @Tony W: I don’t understand. Should they not have invited the top ten candidates?

  11. James Pearce says:

    Seventeen people on a debate stage is simply unmanageable and would not lead to anything informative for voters.

    Unmanageable with commercial breaks, sure. But don’t underestimate the audience.

    They can binge-watch shows on Netflix, but can’t watch a debate with more than 10 candidates? Not buying it. People are smart. (Or they can be.)

    I will buy that Fox News can’t figure out how to make the debates both informative and profitable, and so they chose profitable. It’s a business. Their interests are not our interests.

  12. Gromitt Gunn says:

    Looking at the makeup of the two groups, I would not be surprised in the Kid’s Table has the better discussion.

  13. Tyrell says:

    I do not think that Trump will stay in. I do not know how or when he will get out. I am still working on that. Trump has tapped into the discontent and underlying, simmering feelings of the broad spectrum of mainstream Americans who feel that they have been ignored for years. He is saying things that other candidates have been wanting to say, but are afraid to. When those big corporations dropped him a few weeks ago, it made Trump look like someone fighting against powerful interests: it backfired on those corporations. Trump seems to understand the psyche of the working people.
    Look at this: CNN is reporting that Hillary and Sanders sre tied ! I knew that Sanders was on to something with his middle class/seniors message.

  14. James Pearce says:


    Trump has tapped into the discontent and underlying, simmering feelings of the broad spectrum of mainstream Americans who feel that they have been ignored for years.

    You keep saying stuff like this, Tyrell, but I don’t think it’s really sinking in that Trump can’t claim to appeal to a “broad spectrum of mainstream Americans.”

    Only a quarter of Republicans are interested in him, and none of the Democrats. That’s neither “broad,” nor “mainstream.”

  15. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    With no Santorum nor Perry, the debate will lose a lot of comedic potential.

  16. Kylopod says:

    @Andre Kenji de Sousa: Hey, Ghostbusters wasn’t too bad without Eddie Murphy.

  17. David M says:


    Trump has tapped into the discontent and underlying, simmering feelings of the broad spectrum of mainstream Americans who feel that they have been ignored for years. He is saying things that other candidates have been wanting to say

    I keep hearing this, and find the idea quite disturbing. As Doug M pointed out earlier, Trump’s campaign is substance free, so the GOP primary voters are now craving validation of their fantasy world. I don’t think this is a good thing.

  18. Tillman says:

    ♪ One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong ♫

  19. grumpy realist says:

    @James Pearce: Yes, but Tyrell is one of those those who think that it’s only “real Amurricans” who count. Which means nobody on the East and West coasts. Or educated people. Or women. Or blacks. Or them Hispanics. Or gays. Or….

    Among REAL AMERICANS ™ Trump is winning!

  20. Tony W says:

    @Pinky: This is going to sound crazy, but perhaps the Republican Party could choose its own candidates and host its own debates? Perhaps they could even ask the candidates some policy issues in an attempt to learn which candidates support which policies.

    Instead they let their propaganda wing choose which candidates to host in their first debate. Any high-school statistics student can tell you that beyond those first top three candidates there is no clear methodology for choosing between equals due to the low levels of support for each candidate and the relatively high margin of error. That shows where the real power is, and it ain’t Reince Priebus.

  21. gVOR08 says:

    @grumpy realist: Yup. last I saw, self declared Republicans are 23% of the public. So Trumps got 24% of 23% = 6%. However, I think he has a lot of upside potential. He should be able to get, oh, 27%.

  22. Joe says:

    @David M: Trump appeals to the conservative part of the electorate who start all of their political conversations off with, “Why can’t they just. . .” or “Why don’t they just. . . .” These are people who don’t understand that all actions have repercussions and real policy makers (politicians in the non-pejorative sense) have to consider those. The electorate includes people like this from all parts of the political spectrum, not just conservative. They share only the willingness to complain about problems without the willingness to consider the actual alternatives.

  23. Franklin says:


    build a 1575-mile-long wall

    Hey, he also said he would make America great again. What better way than to build the Great Wall of America?

  24. C. Clavin says:

    Speaking of wing-nuts…and what else can a discussion of the Republican Party be?

  25. Pete S says:

    Our first leaders debate in Canada is tomorrow night as well. What should I watch? Actual information, or a clown show which would be entertaining if the clowns were not almost all running based on their commitment to start a war?

  26. Bob @ Youngstown says:

    Interesting interview this AM with Michael Cohen (Trump’s Executive VP) and CNN about the strategy that “the other candiadates” should adopt for the Fox debate on Thursday. Sorry I can’t find a link.

    Cohen warned that they should not be taking any shots at Trump, because he will retailiate. Paraphrasing…. ‘ remember what Donald did to Graham (giving out his personal cell number) when Graham criticised Trump…. Donald will get back at them.’

    Just a bit of intimidation….but it does cause me to wonder how low Trump is willing to go to retailiate. Would a candidate’s spouse (or adult child) infidelity be out of the question?

  27. Lenoxus says:

    @Franklin: The Great Wall of America could be an excellent tourist attraction. Thousands of foreigners would come from all over just to look at it. I’m sure that its proponents would consider that a point in its favor.

  28. Pinky says:

    @Tony W: You can make an argument that 10 is too high or too low, but given that there will be other opportunities to see all the candidates, it’s not like Fox News is exercising some unprecedented authority. I believe that CNN is going to do the same type of threshold for their upcoming debate – is CNN secretly controlling the Republican Party? When has there been a primary debate that every candidate has been invited? or a primary debate where higher-polling candidates haven’t been invited? What is the aspect of the choosing of debate participants that you can point to and say “Fox News is acting aberrantly in order to increase its ratings and/or unduly influence the outcome of the election”?

  29. Neil Hudelson says:

    As much as it pains me, I have to agree with Pinky here. There is no fair way to hold a debate that is truly informative.

    The debate could have everyone on stage, in which case either the debate runs 4 hours, or everyone gets approximately 30 seconds to speak total. Neither of which is informative.

    Or you limit the amount of people. If so, how? You can either have the most popular candidates on stage–the current format–or you can randomize it. If you randomize it, it necessitates two debates (and I would assume two prime time slots). If you suss out the “top” candidates, you have the issues you have now.

    That said…it bears repeating that we are half a year away from the primary. In the grand scheme of things, this debate doesn’t matter. Most likely we will see a winnowing very soon, and future debates will have a still crowded, but fully representative stage.

  30. Pinky says:

    @Neil Hudelson: They could construct a format for a series of debates that is better than this. I’d prefer a series of debates with 2-4 candidates, or an interview-type format with several professional questioners grilling a single candidate. As I’ve said before, I’d really like to see each candidate put up a 30-minute video: ten minutes foreign policy, ten minutes fiscal policy, ten minutes domestic policy. My only objection to Tony was his claim that Fox is doing something out-of-the-ordinary.

  31. C. Clavin says:


    ten minutes foreign policy, ten minutes fiscal policy, ten minutes domestic policy.

    That would leave 28 minutes of dead-air.
    Bomb Iran, Tax Cuts for the Rich, Defund Planned Parenthood repeal Obamacare and abridge women’s rights at every chance. What else do any of these guys have? Oops…I forgot…arm everyone in a dark theater and keep minorities from voting.
    27 minutes of dead-air.

  32. Grumpy Realist says:

    @C. Clavin: no, I think Pinky is quite right. We should have forceful grilling of each of the candidates and if they come out with platitudes, keep grilling them until they show either that they’ve thought about the issue or that they’re clueless.

  33. Pinky says:

    @Grumpy Realist: The best at that were Evans and Novak.

  34. Tony W says:


    My only objection to Tony was his claim that Fox is doing something out-of-the-ordinary.

    Oh don’t misquote me, this is not out of the ordinary for Fox

  35. PT says:

    Fox News has never before tried to push any agenda, so I don’t know why they would start now.

  36. Pinky says:

    @PT: But Fox News isn’t guilty of everything. They’re not guilty of fixing a debate by inviting the top candidates. Just saying the words “Fox News” isn’t sufficient to prove that they’ve done anything that any other network wouldn’t do. If someone could give me an example of when a network has acted differently, or give an explanation of how Fox News should have acted differently, that’d be fine. But if you’re shouting “scandal” just because the words “Fox” and “Republican” showed up in the same news story, that’s a problem.

  37. PT says:

    I didn’t shout anything. Methinks thou doth protest too much.

  38. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @James Pearce: It’s the Nixonian “great silent majority” that Tyrell is talking about. They register neither on the Dem nor GOP radar. Kind of like hypersonic frequencies, except that only Trump can hear them.

  39. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Lenoxus: And don’t forget the potential as a valuable infrastructure project that would boost employment.

  40. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Pinky: Since you asked, I will provide my recollection of an actual channel surf among the “news” networks:

    CNN: …after the break, and interview with Whitey Bulger’s lawyer
    MSNBC: up next, more on Whitey Bulger [I believe he had just passed away, but can’t remember for sure]
    CNN Headline News: A look back at Whitey Bulger’s life when we return
    CNBC: More on Whitey Bulger after the break
    Fox News: Why is the Obama Administration forcing employees at Catholic hospitals to quit their jobs? We’ll have the details in our next segment after the break.

    Can you spot what was different among the coverages?

  41. Pinky says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker: Come on. I was talking about Fox News acting differently in planning the debate. You’ve got to see that. That was my point: that whatever Fox News has done wrong elsewhere, you can’t blame them for having a debate with the top candidates.

  42. michael reynolds says:

    @Grumpy Realist:

    We should have forceful grilling of each of the candidates and if they come out with platitudes, keep grilling them until they show either that they’ve thought about the issue or that they’re clueless.

    We would need to hire someone from the BBC or dragoon Jon Stewart – our ‘journalists’ don’t know how to do that.

  43. Tony W says:

    @michael reynolds:

    our ‘journalists’ don’t know how to do that.

    I can even remember Bob Edwards throwing softballs at political candidates in my formative years while I screamed at the radio – this is frikkin NPR!!! Ask the question!!!

  44. Tyrell says:

    I expect more of the diversion type questions that we have seen in the past debates: meaningless, unimportant.

  45. grumpy realist says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker: Actually, hearing ultrasonic frequencies is a problem I have had for many many years. I used to have to keep out of the lab building when one of my co-workers did his ultrasonic levitation experiments. And since certain security systems seem to use ultrasonic beams, every now and then I find myself having to run out a building toute suite with my hands clamped over my ears.

    Hearing Trump, of course, is of a completely different level of auditory abuse….

  46. DrDaveT says:

    USA Today has published their bingo card for the debate. It’s not bad. A few other possibilities might be:
    • Personal email server
    • Voter fraud
    • Activist judges
    • One man and one woman
    • Build a wall
    • Religious freedom
    • Bomb Iran
    • A better deal
    • Liberal media
    • Jade Helm

  47. CSK says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker:

    Bulger is still alive, as far as I can can determine.