It’s official: Fox News on Tuesday announced its chosen lineup for this year’s first Republican presidential debate, which will be held in Cleveland on Thursday night.
The candidates who made the cut: Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, and John Kasich.
And those who didn’t: Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, and Jim Gilmore.
Fox faced significant criticism from pollsters, the press, and some of the candidates themselves in the lead-up to the announcement—both because the network was noticeably (and conveniently!) vague about which five polls it would use to compile its all-important average, and because using national polls in the first place wasn’t exactly the most mathematically sound idea. Those concerns, though, will take a back seat come Thursday when the lucky 10 candidates take the stage at 9 p.m. ET.
Even with the network-imposed cap, the chosen candidates are likely to have a tough time standing out on what will still be a historically crowded debate stage. The moderators are expected to try to limit the White House hopefuls to 60-second answers and 30-second rebuttals. (Good luck!) When you factor in commercial breaks and introductions, candidates will probably average less than 10 minutes of speaking time apiece during the two-hour event.
And, of course, there’s the Trump factor that everyone will have to deal with. Regardless of whether Donald Trump plays it boardroom brash or statesmanlike civil, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the current GOP front-runner isn’t one of the major stories coming out of the debate.
Still, even a candidate who is relegated to the prime-time periphery by The Donald and his establishment rivals is likely to be better off than the unlucky seven GOP hopefuls who didn’t make the cut. Those candidates will have the chance to participate in an hour-long candidate forum in the much less attractive 5 p.m hour—an event that has been dubbed the kids table and that Graham, who’s known his fate for weeks, has tried his best to rebrand as the Happy Hour Debate. (Graham’s punchline: “By nine o’clock, Donald may make sense to you, if you drink enough.”)
The format of that event remains a bit of a mystery. Given the Republican National Committee’s strict rules against candidates competing in non-sanctioned debates, it’s possible that Fox News may need to get creative to make it clear that the forum isn’t a debate among the candidates. And, as Monday’s C-SPAN-televised Voters First Forum in New Hampshire made clear, a high-speed cattle call doesn’t make for the most compelling television.