The Republican Primary Debate Rules Might Knock Out Rick Santorum & These Other 7 Candidates

Former US Republican Senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum waves after speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, on March 15, 2013. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Source: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

Getting excited for the primary debate season already? It might be worth cooling your jets, because we've got months to go before anything quite so interesting, but it's understandable that some presidential candidates past, present and future would already be looking forward. On Friday, in fact, a former GOP primary contender decried what he considers an unfair process for the first 2016 Republican presidential debate — Rick Santorum blasted the GOP debate rules, lamenting the polling system used to limit the number of participants.

It's hardly a surprise, given Santorum's own unlikely run to primary relevance in 2012. Despite having nowhere near the name recognition as, say, a Mitt Romney (and what name recognition he did have was rather tarnished), Santorum's underdog run brought him all the way to the front of the GOP field for a time.

But the very first Republican debate in the 2016 season, hosted by the Fox News Channel on Aug. 6, won't be favorable to the long-shot candidate — only the top ten candidates (according to an average of five preceding major polls) will get to take the stage. Speaking to the National Journal after a speech to the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, Santorum argued that pre-debate poll numbers aren't an adequate barometer of a candidate's credibility.

I'm probably the best person to comment on this. In January of 2012 I was at 4 percent in the national polls, and I won the Iowa caucuses. I don't know if I was last in the polls, but I was pretty close to last. And so the idea that a national poll has any relationship to the viability of a candidate—ask Rudy Giuliani that. Ask Phil Gramm that. You can go on down the list of folks who were doing real well in national polls and didn't win a single state and were not a viable candidate.

Santorum's broadside about Rudy Giuliani is especially apt — despite being perceived as a contender in 2008, he ended up spending a staggering $50 million to win just one delegate, the priciest tradeoff in presidential campaign history. So, who in the potential 2016 GOP field should be worried about making the grade?

Carly Fiorina

The former Hewlett-Packard executive and Senate also-ran, Fiorina is precisely the type of candidate who stands to be hurt by this kind of polling system — she doesn't have any actual experience as an elected politician, and she figures to be jammed into a large field — as CBS News notes, the Republicans could end up with 16 or 17 candidates this cycle, meaning a bunch would unavoidably be left out. Fiorina is acting optimistic, however, insisting that she'll make the cut.

Ben Carson

Another political newcomer (although Fiorina has at least run a race before, a feat Carson's never taken on), Dr. Ben Carson has been something of a conservative celebrity in recent years, ever since delivering some scalding remarks at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast while President Obama was in attendance. According to a recent analysis of the last five major polls by The Washington Post, Carson would make the cut were the debate happening now, but he's only 6th on the list, just ahead of Chris Christie, Donald Trump, and Rick Perry.

Lindsey Graham

Lindsey Graham's potential presidential candidacy still seems a little hard to believe, considering some of the far better-known names on offer. And things could easily go from unlikely to impossible if he wasn't able to make the debate — as of this moment, according to that aforementioned Washington Post poll analysis, the hawkish Senator from South Carolina would be barred from participating, not even cracking the top twelve.

Bobby Jindal

If the Louisiana governor wants to make a big impression on the national stage, he'll have to do something to get his polling numbers out of the gutter — actually announcing he's running, for example. Earlier this week, Jindal did announce the formation of an exploratory committee, but like Fiorina and Carson may have hoped, getting in early could've helped him earn some early credibility.

Chris Christie

Once considered a dynamic force within Republican politics, the last few years have not been kind to Christie's presidential ambitions — more and more, it seems as though he may have missed his real chance last cycle, as his polling numbers continue to sag. There's no guarantee at this point that Christie will actually run, a fact which would've been unthinkable when the GOP was practically begging him in 2012. And if he does, he'll be scraping for better polling numbers in the lower-tier — as mentioned above, he's currently 7th out of the projected GOP field.

John Kasich

The Republican governor of Ohio (and former Fox News fill-in host), John Kasich is an interesting name relative to 2016. But he's also a true long-shot at this juncture — according to Real Clear Politics, Kasich's polling averages are at just 2 percent right now, which simply won't get it done. Moreover, the stakes of him missing out on the Aug. 6 debate would be huge — it's being held in Cleveland, meaning he'd risk being shown up in his own state.

Donald Trump

Well, here's a low-level travesty for you. Despite a long-demonstrated reluctance to actually run for president, no political experience, and few taking his potential campaign seriously, Trump could end up bumping some other candidate off the stage. At present, Trump is making the cut in the eighth slot, according to The Washington Post, meaning if he actually decides to run this time, he could end up making some other Republican feel pretty silly.

Images: Getty Images (7)

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