WASHINGTON — The wait is over to find out who will grace Fox News’ prime-time debate stage on Thursday — but for former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the outcome wasn’t what he’d hoped.
Fox News said Tuesday that Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and John Kasich will all appear on the dais Thursday for the premiere event.
That leaves Perry and the six other major declared candidates — Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, and Jim Gilmore — to appear together during a debate earlier Thursday evening.
The debate in Cleveland marks the beginning of a new stage in the Republican nominating contest, where candidates will likely sharpen their first contrasts with one another and the field’s front-runner, Trump. The debates — which gave new life to presidential candidates like Newt Gingrich in 2012 — are now only open to the heavily splintered party’s favorites.
Those who are unable to make Fox’s debate could be left to languish without the political oxygen provided by the televised event; some Republican strategists have argued that those who fail to make the debate will also slowly be de-legitimized in the eyes of donors and early state endorsers.
In an unusual move backed by the Republican National Committee, Fox decided to rely on national polling data to split the group of contenders in what might have otherwise turned into an unwieldy event. The decision means Perry, governor of Texas for 14 years, and Santorum, who won the Iowa caucuses in 2012, will be relegated to the lower-tier debate.
Fox News’ Decision Desk said the five polls included in Fox’s average were conducted by Bloomberg, CBS News, Fox News, Monmouth University and Quinnipiac University.
Those five were the most recent national polls from non-partisan, nationally recognized organizations, she said, using standard methodology. Other factors: They used live interviewers, random digit-dial sampling techniques and included both landlines and cellphones and their GOP primary vote question mirrored the ballot by reading all candidate names in random order and without honorifics, according to the statement from Fox News.
For months, GOP hopefuls at the rear of the pack have undertaken aggressive tactics in hopes of finishing in the top ten in national opinion surveys that Fox used to cull the 17-candidate fray.
Candidates like Perry and Graham in recent weeks have pursued increasingly attention-grabbing strategies in hopes of raising their public profiles and polling numbers. Nearly every candidate placed a new emphasis on national media appearances, even as they criticized the early national polls that likely say little about which candidates will do well in Iowa and New Hampshire six months later.
Kasich, who just made the prime-time cut, said after the announcement, “As governor, I am glad to welcome my fellow debate participants to our great state and I look forward to discussing the issues facing our country with them on Thursday.”
The Ohio governor, who only announced his campaign a few weeks ago, narrowly avoided the embarrassment of not appearing at the debate in his home state.
But there were few signs that all of the senior Republicans excluded from the premier event would quickly move on.
Santorum spokesman Matt Beynon attacked both Fox and the RNC for an “incredibly flawed” process.
“While FOX is taking a lot of heat, the RNC deserves as much blame for sanctioning this process,” he said. “They should not be picking winners and losers. That’s the job of the voters, particularly those in Iowa and New Hampshire who have the role of voting first.”
Perry at least tried to maintain an optimistic tone.
“I look forward to being @FoxNews 5pm debate for what will be a serious exchange of ideas & positive solutions to get America back on track,” Perry tweeted Tuesday afternoon.