Republican Candidates Battle For Final Debate Slots

With just over a week to go, Republican candidates for President are fighting for the movement in the polls that could get them in to the August 6th debate.

Elephants Fighting

One week from now, the deadline that Fox News has imposed for the polls that it will consider in making its invitations to the debate that will be held on Thursday August 6th in Cleveland will close. At that point, the people who are in the top ten of the five most recent polls will get their invitations while the remains six (or seven, if you count Jim Gilmore who gets in the race next week) will be invited to a “consolation” show that will air a few hours before the debate that Thursday. Given the size of the field, the difference between who gets into the debate and who doesn’t is going to quite small. In the RealClearlPolitics average of the national polls, for example, the difference between John Kasich, who is the tenth candidate, and Rick Perry, the eleventh, is two-tenths of a percentage point, which amounts to a handful of people in a couple of polls. In the Huffington Post/Pollster average, which includes several polls that RealClearPolitics does not, Rick Perry is in tenth and leads Kasich by three-tenths of a point. Regardless of which measure you use, these results could change significantly as additional national polls are released over the next week.

As it stands, the core group of candidates that will get into this first debate is clear. Donald Trump will be there, of course, as will Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul. Beyond that group of eight, things get a a little less clear largely because the differences between 9th, 10th, and 11th place are so small, within one percentage point of each other, that a major shift in polling even over a few days could have a big impact on who gets invited and who doesn’t This is  why there is a lot of clamoring among candidates for that tenth and final spot:

Rick Perry called Donald Trump a “cancer.” Rick Santorum racked up five national TV hits in a single day. And Lindsey Graham filmed himself setting his cellphone on fire.

Welcome to the race for 10th place.

The 11th-hour scramble for attention among the longer-shot candidates comes ahead of a major early test in the Republican presidential primary: qualifying for the first debate, slated for Aug. 6 in Cleveland.

Debate host Fox News has decided that only the top 10 contenders, determined by an average of national polls out by Aug. 4, will merit a spot onstage — setting off a Darwinian struggle that has some candidates taking desperate measures to try to move their numbers, and others spinning away their near-certain failure to qualify. Several campaigns also are already spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on TV ads to boost their profiles, even though the Iowa caucuses are six months away.

“We can’t ensure anything, obviously, but it’s important that he is standing on that debate stage,” said Austin Barbour, a prominent Mississippi Republican operative who is running the pro-Perry super PAC effort, which has run national ads boosting the candidate this month. The first debate, he added, is a “big deal. Big deal.”

According to POLITICO’s latest average of national polls, eight candidates are looking like a lock for the debate: Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson. Perry and Chris Christie are in for now, but only barely. Those still with a chance to make the stage are John Kasich, Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal. For the other candidates — Carly Fiorina, George Pataki, Lindsey Graham and Jim Gilmore — it will be very difficult to get to Cleveland.

Perry, the former Texas governor, and Christie, the New Jersey governor, are the most outwardly bullish of those on the bubble.

“The source of my confidence is that the people behind me aren’t gonna catch me, and I’m more likely to move up than I will [be] to move down,” Christie told reporters in South Carolina last week. “So, I’ll be there. I know there are some who hope I’m not. But, I’ll be there. Don’t worry about it.”

The Christie campaign last week made a $250,000 Fox News ad buy, which runs through the debate, and a super PAC supporting him has invested nearly $800,000 in ads to run on Fox News and Fox Business through Aug. 4.

Perry, during an appearance last week in Washington — the same speech in which he called Trump a cancer — said, “We’ll be on the stage and we’ll be making the case for conservatism — and we’ll be making the case for executive leadership.” The super PACs supporting Perry had spent at least $500,000 as of Monday morning, for national ad buys on Fox News and Fox Business, and have invested in online and radio buys. Perry’s allies aren’t ruling out another investment ahead of the debate.

The Republican National Committee decided earlier this year to limit the number of presidential primary debates, while the television stations hosting the RNC-sanctioned events are generally allowed to set the rules. Per Fox News, the candidates who don’t qualify for the prime-time event will be able to speak at a 5 p.m. forum ahead of time — not much of a consolation prize.

The whole process has generated angst and anger among the campaigns getting squeezed out.

“I think it sucks,” Graham, who barely registers in the polls, said last week on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

On some level, I suppose, the format and the rules for these early debates is less than ideal. As things standing right now, among the people who will likely be excluded from the debate next Thursday will be Governors who have served several terms such as George Pataki, Bobby Jindal, and either Rick Perry or John Kasich, Senators such as Lindsey Graham and Rick Santorum, and the only woman in the Republican race for President. Ideally, I suppose, all of these candidates should be included in the first round of debates so that voters have at least some chance to get to know them before the political pundit class writes them off as “unelectable” and their campaigns die due to lack of interest and money. At the same time, though, a debate that lasts only 90 minutes or two hours with as many as sixteen candidates would simply be unworkable. At two hours, that would leave an average of seven and a half minutes per candidate, which doesn’t factor in either time for questions or time for commercials. Some pundits have suggested ways around this problem, such as breaking the debate up into two nights. Others, such as longtime politician consultant Liz Mair, have suggesting something that kind of resembles the NCAA basketball tournament with brackets of candidates debating each other over the course of what I would imagine would be several weeks. The problems I see with both of these proposals is that it’s unlikely that any network would be willing to give up the television time needed to cover such a spectacle, and it’s unclear exactly how you’d determine who “won” a debate that didn’t feature all the candidates. Finally, these suggestions run up against likely objections from the campaigns and the RNC’s desire to limit the numbers of debates after the spectacle we had in 2012. In the end, then, the debate structure we have this time and the rules that Fox News and CNN have established for the first two debates, while imperfect, seem to me to be the best way to resolve a problem to which there cannot really be a “fair” solution that is going to make everyone happy.

There are still a lot of questions about how exactly Fox News will be making its determinations for this first debate. As Andrew Prokop notes, they haven’t made clear exactly what polls they are going to be using as their guidepost, for example. While this won’t really matter very much to the candidates at the top of the pack, it will be crucial for the two or three candidates still fighting it out for the 9th and 10th spots on the debate stage. Additionally, they haven’t made it clear how they might handle a potential tie at the bottom of the back. Let’s say that net Tuesday morning, the polling averages show Rick Perry and John Kasich tied at 2.2%, who gets invited to the debate. One solution, obviously, would be to invite both of them and just add an eleventh podium to the debate stage. At that point, though, the candidate who is 12th place at 2.0% or even 2.1% will have an even more legitimate case to make for the inclusion, and so forth down the line. By not making this part of their selection criteria clear, the organizers of the Cleveland debate could be setting themselves up for a lot of controversy over the next ten days.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds 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. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. JWH says:

    What if the debates were held in a series of randomly selected locations across the United States. On the road to each location, candidates would have to pass a series of physical and mental challenges in order to secure a spot in each debate …

  2. Franklin says:

    Heh, 16 candidates *does* call for an elimination tournament. That would be fun, if I cared.

  3. Ron Beasley says:

    Just another example of how Roger Aisles and FOX news want to control the process. I’m surprised they haven’t hired a professional hit man to take out Trump yet.

  4. Neil Hudelson says:

    The thing that really strikes me about both this article and the race in general is just how down-and-out Carly Fiorina is. While she never had a snowball’s chance to win the nomination, she’s not even mentioned in the same sentence as the other also-rans. While they may only be averaging 2%, at least Perry, Graham, Santorum, etc., are in the news and getting face time.

  5. Davebo says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    What makes you think Aisles isn’t loving Trump? Who is more responsible for Trump’s presence other than perhaps NBC?

  6. gVOR08 says:

    One wonders what the margin of error is on these polls that are being used to make .2% distinctions. (Too lazy to look, but likely around 3%. In engineering the rule of thumb is that the gauge should be accurate to at least a tenth of the tolerance. This is the other way around,)

    On the other hand, I’m going to have a lot of difficulty caring if, say, Rick Perry got unfairly frozen out.

  7. CSK says:

    I did a little research and discovered that there are actually 17 candidates for the Democratic nomination in 2016, including a guy who wants to build “arcologies” to save us from the coming environmental Armageddon. Another guy is running against GM foods. Another guy is running because the Lord commanded him to do so.

    See here: 2016.democratic-candidates.org

  8. Modulo Myself says:

    Here they are:
    1) Donald Trump
    2) Talking 8-week old fetus
    3) Unblinking man in black who stalks women on twitter
    4) Clive Bundy
    5) George Zimmerman
    6) Mabel, resident of Hog Farm, Al and avid reader of Townhall
    7) Quincy, lone African-American member of S. Carolina GOP
    8) Robert E. Lee Impersonator
    9) A speaker here to tell you why Gold is a sure bet
    10) Jeb Bush

  9. gVOR08 says:

    @CSK:

    there are actually 17 candidates for the Democratic nomination

    If you count the guys you’ll never hear of, there are like 25 or 30 GOPs “running”.

  10. Just Me says:

    I like Fiorina and would rather see her than some of the guys who are locks.

    I think they should just randomly split the 16 into two groups and have two debates. Who cares at this point if the two top candidates aren’t on the stage together? Within a few months the pool will be whittled down but given how close the final 8 candidates are in actual numbers seems unfair to cut some out especially since this is free publicity for the poorer candidates.

  11. CSK says:

    @gVOR08Yeah, that’s true, but I still thought it was interesting. What drives these people–on either side of the aisle?

  12. Gustopher says:

    @Just Me: Ten on stage is preposterous. Chop it into four debates, with the candidates sorted either by random lot, or by least useful attribute (alphabetical by middle name, social security number backwards, whatever…).

    All of the Republican candidates deserve a chance to shine, to explain their positions to America, and frighten and repulse everyone outside of the far right. And, maybe, just maybe, Carly Fiona would come out at the top of the pack, after declaring her intent to dig a canal along the border with Mexico to let ships through and keep brown people out.

  13. Modulo Myself says:

    @CSK:

    Partners of cranks welcome the ‘campaign’.

  14. MikeSJ says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    You forgot Zombie Reagan.

    Can you imagine it? Blah Blah Blah goes the debate…then out staggers the rotting corpse of Ron Reagan. Some Disney Animatronics and software and “there you go again”

    The crowd would be on its feet bellowing Hosannas, some would be rolling on the ground in ecstasy. It/He would clearly win the nomination and beat Hillary hands down. The supreme court however would rule this invalid since a dead man can’t actually run so the Presidency would be awarded to Hillary.

    A short civil war would ensue since conservatives are really sore losers. Boy, I can’t wait.

  15. Mr. Prosser says:

    A sweet 16 elimination sounds like the best. I would hold it on Cspan and require that all candidates share the cost of production and broadcasting of the debates in which they participate.

  16. gVOR08 says:

    @Mr. Prosser: If the format involves octagonal ten foot high chain link fences and edged weapons, I’m for it.

  17. DrDaveT says:

    @gVOR08:

    In engineering the rule of thumb is that the gauge should be accurate to at least a tenth of the tolerance.

    In engineering, the Republican nomination process would have been declared out of control (in the formal Statistical Process Control sense) long ago, and the machine would have been shut down, repaired, and re-tooled.

  18. CSK says:

    @gVOR08:

    How about a pie-eating contest?

  19. Argon says:

    Well, that explains the louder ‘braying of asses’ to which we’ve been recently subjected.

  20. Pete S says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    Just another example of how Roger Aisles and FOX news want to control the process. I’m surprised they haven’t hired a professional hit man to take out Trump yet.

    If they were to do this it would be on August 7th. That way their debate gets the Trump “what is he going to say next” ratings and nobody else does.

  21. PJ says:

    Debate host Fox News has decided that only the top 10 contenders, determined by an average of national polls out by Aug. 4, will merit a spot onstage

    and

    The Christie campaign last week made a $250,000 Fox News ad buy, which runs through the debate, and a super PAC supporting him has invested nearly $800,000 in ads to run on Fox News and Fox Business through Aug. 4.

    and

    The super PACs supporting Perry had spent at least $500,000 as of Monday morning, for national ad buys on Fox News and Fox Business, and have invested in online and radio buys. Perry’s allies aren’t ruling out another investment ahead of the debate.

    equals profit!

  22. michael reynolds says:

    Modified Barter Town rules: 16 men enter, four men leave. I think we should only allow clubs and other blunt-impact weapons.

    In that case I think we’d get Kasich, Perry, Carson and Christie, maybe Rubio if his youth equals speed. Jeb looks limp. Trump’s never taken a fist to the face despite the tough guy act, he’d fold. Walker would run away. I get the sense from Santorum and Graham that they’d never get past a slap fight.

    If we’re going Thunderdome my money’s on Kasich. He’s a bit of an a-hole, smart, aggressive, looks fit. Kasich would totally lay a baseball bat upside Jindal’s head and laugh while he did it.

  23. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @CSK: C’mon guys, mud wrestling. It’s the only way to separate the pretenders from the contenders.

  24. Mr. Prosser says:

    @gVOR08: These guys are all mouth. A cage fight between any of them would look like the duel to the death between Mel Brooks as Comicus and Gregory Hines as Josephus in History of the World, Part 1.

  25. Barry says:

    @gVOR08: “If the format involves octagonal ten foot high chain link fences and edged weapons, I’m for it.”

    Thunderdome. ‘Two men Sixteen people enter, one leaves’.

  26. Scott F. says:

    Per Fox News, the candidates who don’t qualify for the prime-time event will be able to speak at a 5 p.m. forum ahead of time — not much of a consolation prize.

    I’m starting to think that not being in the top ten may be a blessing in disguise. Won’t it be easier to make an impression if you’re one of six, instead of one of ten? Especially if two of those six are George Pataki and Jim Gilmore? If the “forum” allows them to say what they want directly versus the “debate” where they will try to say what they want in some twisted way to make it sound like the answer to the question they were given, won’t that make it easier to get their message across through whatever media decides to cover? Besides, on the debate stage, everything will end up being Jump on Trump while the candidates on the ends will be mostly ignored.

    Now, America hates losers and the media will certainly characterize the consolation forum as the second tier, so it could very well play out that way. But, Perry, Kasich or Fiorina may find that being the biggest kid in the kiddie pool may be better than being the pipsqueak in the circus tent.