Repub­li­can de­bate set: Trump, Bush in; Perry out


Bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man Don­ald Trump has made the cut for Thurs­day night’s lead­off de­bate of the 2016 U.S. pres­i­den­tial race, joined by for­mer Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wis­con­sin Gov. Scott Walker and seven other Repub­li­can con­tenders.

Seven oth­ers will be ex­cluded, in­clud­ing for­mer tech­nol­ogy ex­ec­u­tive Carly Fio­r­ina and for­mer Texas Gov. Rick Perry, rel­e­gated to a pre-de­bate fo­rum and sec­ond-tier sta­tus in the party’s crowded field. Fox News an- nounced the 10 Repub­li­can White House hope­fuls who will take part in the de­bate.

Trump, af­ter launch­ing his cam­paign with a speech that la­beled Mex­i­can im­mi­grants as “crim­i­nals” and “rapists,” was ini­tially thought to have no chance in the race, but the latest polls show him far out­dis­tanc­ing the top-tier main­stream Repub­li­can can­di­dates. How­ever, his neg­a­tive num­bers in the polls are also high and most observers re­main skep­ti­cal about his chances of se­cur­ing the nom­i­na­tion.

Be­yond Trump, those se­lected among the top 10 — based on re­cent na­tional polls — in­clude Bush, Wis­con­sin Gov. Scott Walker, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Ken­tucky Sen. Rand Paul, Florida Sen. Marco Ru­bio, re­tired neu­ro­sur­geon Ben Car­son, for­mer Arkansas Gov. Mike Huck­abee, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Ka­sich. Mak­ing the cut could boost the chances of lesser-known can­di­dates like Ka­sich.

The de­bate will be a key test for Trump. Some polls show his back­ing has grown to nearly dou­ble that of Bush, the brother and son of pres­i­dents.

Those who didn’t make the field for the first de­bate in­clude Fio­r­ina, the party’s only fe­male pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, Perry, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jin­dal, South Carolina Sen. Lind­sey Graham, for­mer Penn­syl­va­nia Sen. Rick San­to­rum, for­mer New York Gov. Ge­orge Pataki and for­mer Vir­ginia Gov. Jim Gil­more.

The an­nounce­ment comes af­ter the Repub­li­can Party that worked ag­gres­sively to im­prove its de­bates ahead of the elec­tion sea­son. Yet with the largest field of con­tenders in mod­ern mem­ory, or­ga­niz­ers say some­thing had to give to en­sure the de­bate in Cleve­land didn’t turn into a na­tion­ally tele­vised cir­cus.

“We never ever en­vi­sioned we’d have 17 ma­jor can­di­dates,” said Steve Duprey, New Hamp­shire’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee who helped craft the de­bate plan. “There’s no per­fect so­lu­tion.”

Repub­li­can of­fi­cials worked closely with TV ex­ec­u­tives, although the net­works have the fi­nal say about which can­di­dates will be al­lowed on stage for their tele­vised events.

Fox News is the host of Thurs- day’s event, the first of six par­ty­sanc­tioned de­bates be­fore pri­mary vot­ing be­gins in Fe­bru­ary. The net­work says it used a se­lec­tion of na­tional polls to make this week’s cut.

Repub­li­can of­fi­cials were par­tic­u­larly con­cerned about Fio­r­ina’s sta­tus, hop­ing she would help bal­ance Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton’s push to rally women to her can­di­dacy. Trump’s re­cent surge in the polls was par­tic­u­larly dam­ag­ing to Fio­r­ina.

The re­al­ity tele­vi­sion star’s rapid rise has sur­prised many Repub­li­can of­fi­cials, some of whom fear his rhetoric on immigration and other di­vi­sive is­sues could hurt the party. In a Tues­day in­ter­view, Trump said he’s been de­fy­ing ex­pec­ta­tions all his life.

“I think peo­ple are tired, they’re sick and tired of in­com­pe­tent politi­cians,” he said on MSNBC’s “Morn­ing Joe” when asked to ex­plain his rise.

Fox didn’t say be­fore Tues­day’s an­nounce­ment which polls it would use to de­ter­mine its top 10. Many can­di­dates are grouped to­gether in the sin­gle dig­its, most sep­a­rated by a num­ber smaller than the mar­gin of er­ror.

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