On Tuesday, leading Republican candidates for president will take the stage once again in the fifth GOP primetime debate, which will take place at the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas. This time around, the criteria for landing on the coveted primetime stage was more complicated than in debates past, but it seemed to provide candidates with more opportunities to qualify. Still, the lineup won't change too dramatically — as Donald Trump will still take the center lectern.
The fifth GOP debate comes more than a month after the previous one, giving the candidates plenty of new issues and events to talk about (get ready to take a drink every time a candidate mentions refugees, am I right?). This time around, the debate will be hosted by CNN, along with Facebook and Salem Media. As with each Republican debate, admittance to the stage will be limited only to those candidates who have met a certain threshold of support in the polls. This time, however, eligibility wasn't determined solely on an average of national polls.
CNN announced its selection criteria back in November. In order to participate in the primetime debate, candidates had to poll at either 3.5 percent nationally, 4 percent in Iowa, or 4 percent in New Hampshire in an average of polls from Oct. 29 through Dec. 13. That leaves eight candidates eligible — the same amount that appeared on the Fox Business primetime stage back in early November. But it's not the same exact people.
Based on CNN's criteria, the following candidates will appear in Tuesday's primetime debate: Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Carly Fiorina, and Chris Christie.
CNN will also host an undercard debate to precede the primetime debate. To qualify for that debate, candidates had to reach at least one percent in four separate national, Iowa, or New Hampshire polls. As a result, the undercard debate will feature Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Lindsey Graham, and George Pataki. Left out from the debate night altogether was Jim Gilmore, who hasn't qualified for a debate since the very first one.
It's possible (although not at all probable) that Trump will choose not to participate in Tuesday's primetime debate. A couple of weeks ago, Trump proposed to supporters at a rally in Macon, Georgia, the idea that he wouldn't participate in the debate unless CNN paid him $5 million, which he would then donate to veterans' organizations. A few days after the statement, CNN President Jeff Zucker refused to entertain Trump's demand, saying, "We do not pay candidates to appear."
If (and when) he appears on stage, focus is sure to be drawn to Trump. Despite a lackluster, rather quiet performance in the previous debate, Trump has recently rocked the ever-shaky GOP boat once again with his comments about Muslims in the wake of the tragic San Bernardino shooting in southern California. Hopefully, though, the debate will stay focused on legitimate priorities rather than Trump's ridiculous agenda.