The first presidential primary debate officially sanctioned by the Republican National Committee will be held on August 6 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. The event will be aired on Fox News and moderated by the network’s own Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace. In order to qualify for the debate, candidates must place in the top 10 of an average of five national polls.
There will be several other televised debates during the 2016 presidential campaign for the Republican nomination, and the candidates that will be represented in subsequent debates are still yet to be determined. The second GOP debate, sponsored by CNN and Salem Radio, features candidates split into two segments: one featuring the top 10 candidates, and another featuring the rest of the candidates polling at least 1 percent. Those rules are less strict than the Fox News debate, but it’s still likely that only the segment with the top 10 candidates will get the most exposure.
The stringent requirements to enter the debates have been a source of anxiety for Republican candidates, especially considering the field is already so crowded. At least 14 individuals have declared their candidacy for the Republican nomination, and others like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kaisch are expected to join the race soon. That means at least six candidates will be excluded from the first debate, missing the opportunity to explain and defend their platform on the national stage. Using the most recent RealClearPolitics data, the current top 10 candidates are Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry and Chris Christie. Adding six extra candidates to that list could make it too difficult to carry out a reasonable debate, but it's not necessarily fair to exclude anyone, either.
Trump’s presence in the debate has been a particular source of controversy among Republicans. The argument is that Trump’s platform, while surprisingly popular with voters, will detract from the seriousness of the debates. Trump relishes sensationalist ideas that receive response or backlash, playing a game of political theater that’s only helped boost his buzz. “He’s a very toxic addition to the field,” said Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign manager Katie Packer Gage, according to Hot Air. “His involvement in any televised debate will be damaging,” said Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak. “It is my sincere hope that he is blocked from participating.” With a strict cutoff of 10 candidates, Trump's campaign could directly contribute to the demise of another presidential hopeful.
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It is impossible to determine the exact impact televised debates have on voters, but the logical conclusion is that it’s significant. Most candidates that aren't involved in the televised debates have little chance of securing a major party's nomination. Whether we want to admit the scope of its influence or not, the media definitely has at least some control over which candidates voters end up siding with. If the media is supposed to be impartial, an ideal way of holding debates would be to allow all those officially interested in securing the GOP nomination to clearly debate their issues in front of all members of the party, but that's obviously easier said than done. A possibility is for a more evenhanded debate to be held via the Internet (which already began occurring via YouTube in the later stages of the last couple elections), but for now televised debates held by media companies like Fox News are the norm. It’s not a fair way for a nation to equally consider all of their options for presidential elections, but it’s the way that things will proceed regardless. On the other end of the political spectrum, of course, the slim list of declared Democratic candidates should mean the primary debates go on without much controversy as to who’s allowed to join. The outcome of elections is determined by the media's polls and debates, whether the public wants to admit that or not.
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