Why Are There Two GOP Debates?

The first primary debate of election season is Thursday, and everyone is anxious to see which Republican candidate will come out on top and which ones will make fools of themselves on stage. While gearing up to watch the big event, you may be wondering: why are there two GOP debates? Isn't one enough? The answer is quite simple — there are just too many GOP presidential candidates. A debate with 17 participants would drag on for hours and would probably be a chaotic mess, so Fox News decided to limit the prime-time debate to only 10 contenders, forcing the unchosen seven to participate in an earlier debate, charmingly nicknamed the "happy hour debate" since it's at 5 p.m. ET.

Fox decided on the prime-time debate roster based on the candidates' average polling numbers from the five most recent national polls conducted by Fox, Bloomberg, CBS News, Monmouth University, and Quinnipiac University. Here's who qualified for the main debate: business tycoon Donald Trump, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. This debate, co-hosted by Facebook, will be broadcasted on Fox News at 9 p.m. ET.

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The Republican candidates who didn't make the cut are former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, former New York Gov. George Pataki, and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore. Since they had the lowest polling numbers, they will participate in the "happy hour debate."

Here are the average polling numbers that determined the GOP candidates' debate slots, with only the top 10 making it into the prime-time debate.

  1. Donald Trump: 23.4
  2. Jeb Bush: 12
  3. Scott Walker: 10.2
  4. Mike Huckabee: 6.6
  5. Ben Carson: 5.8
  6. Ted Cruz: 5.4
  7. Marco Rubio: 5.4
  8. Rand Paul: 4.8
  9. Chris Christie: 3.4
  10. John Kasich: 3.2
  11. Rick Perry: 1.8
  12. Rick Santorum: 1.4
  13. Bobby Jindal: 1.4
  14. Carly Fiorina: 1.3
  15. Lindsey Graham 0.7
  16. George Pataki: 0.6
  17. Jim Gilmore: 0.2

The seven Republicans participating in the earlier debate stayed mostly positive after Fox News announced the roster Tuesday night. However, Santorum's communications manager, Matt Beynon, released a statement questioning why qualified candidates were left out based on polling data seven months before any votes are cast, calling the decision "preposterous." Nevertheless, two separate debates will give each candidate more time to flesh out their beliefs and plans for the country, and America will just have to watch Fox News for longer.