Because one of the core tenets of American democracy is that it must make everybody’s lives as miserable as possible at all times, the first debate of the 2016 presidential campaign will take place next week, roughly (according to scientists I’ve spoken with) 42 years before the actual election is scheduled to take place. Fox is hosting a Republican primary debate next Thursday, or to be more accurate, it’s hosting two Republican primary debates on that day.
See, in order to avoid assaulting viewers’ senses by exposing them to all 16 of the GOP’s “America’s Next Top Model” rejects at the same time, Fox decided that its debate had to have standards. You can’t just let any old nutjob into these things; they might take valuable air time away from one of the 3 or 4 nutjobs who actually have a shot at winning the nomination. So only the 10 GOP candidates with the highest national polling averages will be allowed in the regular, or “Champagne Room,” debate at 9 PM; the rest of the inpatient wing of the asylum will participate in a consolation, or “Please Don’t Get Mad and/or Sue Us,” debate, at 5 PM, when Roger Ailes hopes nobody is watching.
Even that pity debate was supposed to have standards, or a standard, which was that you had to be polling at at least 1% nationally. But it turns out that even that pretty low standard was too high a bar for George Pataki (currently polling at 0.who?%) and Lindsey Graham (at a respectable 0.ohyou’vegottobekiddingme%), to say nothing of the soon-to-be-declared presidential campaign of former Virginia Governor
Happy Jim Gilmore that the kids have all been eagerly awaiting (Feel the Gilm-entum™!). These guys need a chance to look absurd too, so Fox graciously waved that 1% requirement and let them all into the pool. So right now the debate line-ups look like this, at least as far as Politico can tell, though that whole “top 10 in the national polls” standard is just vague enough that Fox could muck around with it a little on the margins:
According to a POLITICO analysis of the latest national polling, the prime-time participants today would be Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Rick Perry.
The next three, who would currently be relegated to 5 p.m., are Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Rick Santorum and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. They are followed by Fiorina, Pataki and Graham.
What interests me is the possibility that one or more of these second-class candidates might tell Fox to stick its demeaning afterthought debate and refuse to participate. Although there’s still a week to go to determine the final lineup, let’s consider the six names on that second list, plus Rick Perry, since he and Kasich are both right around that #10 spot depending on which polling average you look at. This is the spot where Fox could pull strings to get Kasich, the former Fox host, into the real debate, though Sean Hannity will likely complain to HR if they exclude his best gun-shooting and immigrant-hunting buddy, Perry, under shady circumstances.
With Gov Perry pic.twitter.com/oLaxlpwgp8
— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) July 10, 2014
Anyway, I guess it could be a risky move for one of the bottom-feeders to blow off the loser debate and make a big public stink about it, but they’d be risking their sub-2% showing in the polls, or in other words, “nothing of any value at all.” Meanwhile, they’d be taking a bold but ultimately meaningless anti-establishment stand in full view of a primary electorate that loves bold but ultimately meaningless anti-establishment shit. It’s a Hail Mary, but Graham, Pataki, and co are pretty much at the point where a Hail Mary is the only chance they have of actually getting into the race.
So is there a chance any of them would do this? Kasich seems like a definite “no” given his past ties to Fox, and Perry is on Fox so often that it looks like he’s angling for a regular job there after his campaign finally fizzles out. Graham might try it but I’m not sure anybody would pay attention if he did. Really, the one also-ran (also-running?) who could maybe/possibly think about going this route is Santorum, who was ripping Fox over this very issue just a couple of months ago, before he clammed up when it briefly looked like he might qualify for the adult debate. Let’s face it, if Fox were planning to offer Rick Santorum a regular gig, it could have done so a long time ago, so he’s not exactly auditioning for a job at this point, and he’s got no real political future to worry about as far as I can tell (Pennsylvania voters aren’t exactly clamoring for him to come back and run for statewide office again). As the runner-up to “Mitt” Romney in 2012, Santorum might have enough weight to throw around, his current poll numbers notwithstanding, to make a very public rejection of the Fox debate turn into a big story (or at least bigger than he’s used to getting these days, which I grant you isn’t saying much).
So while I don’t think it’s likely that anybody will actually reject Fox’s “B” debate, if somebody is going to reject it I’d put my (admittedly incredibly meager) money on Santorum.
Or Jim Gilmore could do it. Wouldn’t that be, ah, Gilm-azing™?
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