Republican primary contestants just got an unwelcome early Christmas gift.
Fox Business Network, which is slated to host the first debate of the new year, announced its qualifying rules this week for the January 14 contest. The stricter criteria could leave as few as six GOP contenders on the main stage. The network itself is intervening in the unwieldy contest in a way unseen thus far in the primary.
Until now, the networks had used relatively similar criteria to evaluate which contestants should make the main stage, and which would be relegated to the undercard debate. For Fox Business’s last debate, organizers considered just four national polls, and any candidate who averaged a tiny 2.5 percent or higher made the primetime cut. CNN’s debate just two weeks ago allowed for candidates polling 3.5 percent or higher nationally, or 4 percent or higher in Iowa or New Hampshire, to merit the main stage.
But the way Fox Business has designed its new rules, up to three fewer candidates could compete than at the last Republican debate. It’s as if network officials decided they needed to get serious in the last month of competition before the Iowa caucuses, and designed criteria to whittle down the field. They’re not showing the same kind of inclusiveness CNN did when it bucked its own rules to let low-polling Rand Paul into the last primetime contest.