What Are The Rules For The First GOP Debate? The Guidelines Have Been Stirring Up Controversy Since They Were Announced

OSKALOOSA, IA - JULY 25: Republican presidential hopeful businessman Donald Trump holds up a day's collection of letters of support he says he received from veterans at a rally on July 25, 2015 in Oskaloosa, Iowa. During his last visit to the state Trump sparked controversy when he said Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a former POW, was not a war hero. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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At long last, it's almost upon us. The first Republican presidential debate is scheduled for Thursday evening, and it's promising to be a good night of television. It's also the first debate of the primary season for either party, and they are some pretty particular stipulations that have stirred up a lot of controversy. So, you may ask, what are the rules for the first GOP debate?

There's one particular rule that's been the defining point of conversation for months since it was announced because it could have a rather huge effect on how the campaigns play out going forward — namely, Fox News' limit on the maximum number of participants. Originally, the plan was for only 10 candidates to make the cut, decided by an average of five national polls. This proved controversial enough on its own because it's so early in the process, and the field is so overcrowded, that long shot candidates like Lindsay Graham and Carly Fiorina would effectively be shut out.

Now, however, Fox News had changed the script a bit, adding a lower-tier debate for the candidates who were lagging behind. And, obviously, there are rules to be upheld during the debate, as well. The rules of engagement, if you will.

According to ABC News, each candidate will have one minute to answer questions from moderators Bret Baier, Chris Wallace, and Megyn Kelly and will have 30 seconds to offer rebuttals. The goal is for every candidate to get equal time to speak, which would come to about 10 minutes each — this time crunch issue is probably a big reason that Fox News set the participation cutoff.

We also now know the arrangement of the candidates on the stage, and that could be an underrated important aspect to all this. The polling front-runner — Donald Trump, that is to say — will stand behind the podium at center stage, with the others in descending order fanning out in both directions. This figures to send a strong visual message of just who's on top and who's trailing.

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The order of candidates, according to Fox News' formulation, is as follows:

  • Donald Trump
  • Jeb Bush
  • Scott Walker
  • Mike Huckabee
  • Ben Carson
  • Ted Cruz
  • Marco Rubio
  • Rand Paul
  • Chris Christie
  • John Kasich

The early debate for the candidates who didn't finish in the top 10 — which has rather humiliatingly been referred to as the "kids' table debate" by some outlets — was clearly intended to placate some of the outcry about so much of the field missing the cut. It clearly hasn't quelled the discontent, but it'll nonetheless be attended by the rest of the GOP field. Here's the order for the junior league edition, as detailed by USA Today.

  • Rick Perry
  • Rick Santorum
  • Bobby Jindal
  • Carly Fiorina
  • Lindsay Graham
  • George Pataki
  • Jim Gilmore
The main stage debate is scheduled for 9 p.m. ET on Thursday, while the consolation debate will be going down at 5 p.m. ET. Needless to say, both of them will be airing on Fox News.

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