WASHINGTON - Next Thursday evening, 10 of the 17 Republican candidates for president will line up shoulder-to-shoulder on a stage at a Cleveland, Ohio, sports arena - and the political games in advance of the 2016 presidential election will begin for real.
The debate, the first of 11 to be held between now and March, is shrouded in some mystery.
Fox News, which is sponsoring the event along with Facebook, has limited participation to the 10 candidates with the most support according to public opinion polls, saying that there is no room for what is the largest field of presidential candidates in at least 100 years on the stage of the Quicken Loans Arena.
Fox has said nothing publicly about the format. Questions will be submitted through Facebook, and three Fox news personalities will moderate, but exactly how the debate will proceed has not been disclosed.
Fox says the field will be announced Tuesday at 5 p.m. and the debaters will be chosen according to an average of the five most recent national polls that are “recognized by Fox News.”
Which polls are those?
Perry or Kasich?
Going by a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll released Sunday the field is led by billionaire businessman Donald Trump, picked by 19 percent of respondents as their first choice for president. He is followed in order of popularity by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and Florida Senator Marco Rubio.
In slots 9, 10 and 11 are New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Texas Governor Rick Perry and Ohio Governor John Kasich – all chosen by three percent of respondents.
Most observers think Christie will get number nine, and say the tenth debate slot boils down to a race between Perry and Kasich, both of whom appeared on the television show, “Fox News Sunday.”
“In terms of being on the stage in that big debate, I’d like to be there, but, you know, this debate comes six months before the selection of a single delegate,” Kasich said.
“Well, I full well expect to be on the stage, but as a lot of people recognize, this is not a one shot pony here,” declared Perry.
‘I Don’t Debate. I Build’
The elephant in the room is an English expression for an obvious truth that is either being ignored or is not being addressed. In the debate, Donald Trump is looking like the elephant in the room. The other participants are likely to try to ignore the front runner in favor of getting their own messages out - and to avoid his "counter punches."
But much of the audience, which is expected to be very large for an event on cable television, will be tuning in to see “the Donald,” who is known for his outspoken remarks.
“These politicians -- I always say, they're all talk, no action. They debate all the time. They go out and they debate every night. I don't debate. I build,” Trump said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
But Trump also zings his opponents. He has accused Perry of wearing glasses to make himself look smarter and called Senator Lindsey Graham, another Republican candidate, an idiot.
Trump said Sunday on ABC he only attacks in self-defense. “Every attack I made was a counter punch. I mean, they attacked me first and I hit them back and maybe harder than they hit me… I have great respect for some of the people on the stage.”
Should Perry qualify for the 10th slot, he might want to duck. “Cancer on conservatism,” he said about Trump some two weeks ago.
9 Minutes of Fame
The seven candidates who don’t make the debate cut have been invited to a separate one-hour debate scheduled for five o’clock p.m. preceding the main debate. Senator Graham has called it the “happy hour” debate.
But even those participating in the 7:00 p.m. debate are going to be hard pressed to get their messages across. The debate is two hours long, which - minus introductions and commercial breaks - comes out to about nine minutes of speaking time per candidate.