First GOP Debate: Santorum Protests, Trump Downplays, and Christie Assures

As the debate nears, candidates get ready for prime time (or not).

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Republican presidential candidates participate in a Republican presidential debate in Sioux City, Iowa, Thursday, December 15, 2011.

ERIC GAY/AFP/Getty Images

Two days before members of the unusually large Republican presidential field receive word as to who will get one of the coveted 10 spots on a prime time televised debate Thursday, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, one of those likely to be relegated to an afternoon consolation face-off, attacked the criteria for making the choice.

"National polls mean nothing," Santorum said Sunday during an appearance on ABC's This Week. The Pennsylvanian directed his fire at both Fox News, the TV network co-hosting the debate with Facebook, and the Republican National Committee, which sanctioned the debate. "It's just an arbitrary figure, and unfortunately, the national networks and the RNC have gone along with this irrelevant measure of legitimacy of candidacy." 

Fox has said it will assign the 17 major candidates their places on Tuesday, based on an average of five national polls. Santorum, who won the Iowa caucuses four years ago, now lurks in the back of the Republican pack, with just 1 percent of voters supporting him, according to a new Wall Street Journal /NBC News poll. 

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, one of the candidates whose participation still hangs in the balance, said he's not worried. 

"You know, I'll be very happy on Tuesday when the standings come out and I'm in there," the New Jersey governor said. "Once you get on the stage, it's not going to matter if you're number one, number five or number 10. .... I'm confident I'll be there on Thursday night."  

Billionaire Donald Trump, who has been leading virtually every poll, tempered expectations a bit in anticipation of the debate. 

"I'm not a debater," Trump said over the phone on CBS's Face the Nation. "I don't stand up and debate like these politicians.  They're all talk, no action.  All they do is their whole life they debate and then they don't get things done. I get things done." 

Read more about the wide Republican field angling for the 10 available spots in the upcoming debates.

Trump leads in yet another poll, this one from NBC and and the Wall Street Journal. Nineteen percent of primary voters in the new NBC News/Wall St. Journal poll chose Trump, while 15 percent chose former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and 14 percent chose Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. 

Ohio Governor John Kasich, who may make the cut, depending on his performance in upcoming polls, downplayed its importance on Fox News Sunday

"This debate comes six months before the selection of a single delegate," he said. "What I've been focusing on is out there in the grass roots."

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus on NBC's Meet the Press defended the criteria for this week's debate but suggested that the admissions standards might change for later ones. "National polling has always been determinative of these debates," Priebus said. "Now when you get into the Iowa debate and the New Hampshire debate and the South Carolina debate, then those state polls are going to have a play into who's on the debate stage."

Democrats, who have committed to holding six debates, still haven't scheduled any. "We're going to be having a robust series of debates, and we're just finalizing the last few details," Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Florida congresswoman who heads the Democratic National Committee, said on Meet the Press. "I'll be announcing our series of debates very soon."

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