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The Republican Debate Selection Process Is a New Wild Card in Presidential Politics

Fox News and CNN are using national polls to limit the debate stage to 10 candidates. Methodologically, they might as well be drawing straws.
Republican presidential candidates participate in a Republican presidential debate in Sioux City, Iowa, Thursday, December 15, 2011.

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

ERIC GAY/AFP/Getty Images

A month from now, 10 Republican presidential candidates will walk out onto a primetime debate stage in Cleveland and confront each other face to face for the first time. If the debate were held today, Donald Trump would be one of them. Two sitting governors, a U.S. senator, the runner-up for the 2012 GOP nomination, and the first female CEO of a Fortune 50 company would all be excluded.

That's an estimate based on qualifying criteria described by Fox News, which will host the GOP showdown in partnership with Facebook on Aug. 6 in Cleveland, using an average of five as-yet-unspecified national polls to determine the lineup. The network should be celebrating its coveted role of hosting the first debate of the Republican primary season, with the prestige and audience that it brings. But instead, the news organization may have stumbled into a political minefield.