By now you have doubtless heard that the final stage has been set for the first-tier debate on Thursday. About the first 8 contestants – Trump, Walker, Bush, Huckabee, Rubio, Cruz, Paul, Carson – there is relatively little controversy, at least insofar as it was announced ahead of time that polling would be the primary determining factor as to who gets on stage. Huckabee and Carson stand no realistic chance of winning the nomination – I would say both have less chance than Fiorina – but they are where they are in the polls and I suppose that means they are entitled to share the main stage.
With the last two spots, however, there is no small amount of controversy. On the absolute merits, in a RealClearPolitics average sense, Christie and Kasich “earned” the final two spots, edging out Rick Perry and others by less than a percentage point. But the final numbers show the somewhat nonsensical results of following this approach altogether. In a collection of polls which all have a margin of error of at least 4 points, you can’t say with any level of confidence that either Christie or Kasich have any statistically valid support at all, much less that they have more support (or less) than Perry, Jindal, or Fiorina.
More to the point, despite starting the campaign season with a relatively large amount of buzz, Chris Christie has more or less disappeared off the face of the earth – in the polls, the press, and in voters’ attention. When is the last time Chris Christie did anything that even caused the news media to record it, other than providing a little TMI into his personal birth control habits. Ditto Kasich, whose announcement generated absolutely zero buzz or reading in the polls, and which has him running behind literally everyone in Iowa in spite of his alleged Midwestern appeal.
It would be nice, in times like these, to have people in positions of power within the GOP who were trusted by the voters who could step in and shape the field – at least at the edges – to help ensure that the people voters really want to hear from will be on stage. I know of literally no one who is holding their breath to hear what Christie or Kasich have to say. On the other hand, quite a few people are at least curiously interested to see if Rick Perry can redeem himself in the arena that spelled his doom last time – since he is almost universally respected in terms of his record. I know of a lot of people who have been pleasantly surprised by Fiorina’s performance on the trail so far this year and would much rather hear her perspective than either.
Sadly, any such movement by the party apparatus is pretty much out of the question as voter trust in it is at an all time low, and Reince Preibus surely understands that. And so, since there is no one at the helm who can be trusted to make these decisions objectively (frankly, the people in power would be more likely to unfairly tip the scales towards Kasich and Christie than anyone voters want to see anyway), we have what we have.
The truly tuned in voters will be watching the first debate as well. And it seems likely that someone will trip and fall flat on their face in the “main stage” debate, leaving an opening for a reshuffling before the second debate. But even if that happens, the larger issue remains that the voters don’t trust anyone – including the polls – to tell them who should be on the stage and who shouldn’t anymore.