Gov. Bobby Jindal failed to qualify for the prime-time TV debate among Republican candidates Thursday, and he will be relegated instead to a late-afternoon event with other contenders who fell short of a top-10 ranking in national polls, Fox News announced Tuesday.
Jindal will accept the invitation to the second-tier debate, his campaign manager, Timmy Teepell, confirmed in an email after the announcement.
The Thursday debates, in Cleveland, represent the first to be televised nationally in the current campaign. A second round of debates, with a similar two-tier structure based on poll results, will be broadcast live on CNN from Simi Valley, California, on Sept. 16.
Jindal came in 13th in the standings as calculated by Fox News, based on an average of five recent polls. The result was not a surprise: Jindal has consistently ranked outside the top 10 in national polls, typically registering at 1 or 2 percent.
His polling performance means Jindal will take the lectern to the right of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Perry earned the center lectern by ranking 11th, while former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, of Pennsylvania, who came in 12th, will stand on Perry’s left.
Others slotted into that event are businesswoman Carly Fiorina; U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina; former New York Gov. George Pataki; and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore. The co-hosts of the Fox show “America’s Newsroom,” Bill Hemmer and Martha MacCallum, will serve as moderators.
Real-estate developer and reality-TV celebrity Donald Trump came in atop the polls, and he will claim center stage for the two-hour main event, at 8 p.m. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the runner-up, will stand to Trump’s left, while Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, at No. 3, will be on Trump’s right. The rest of the prime-time field, in polling order, includes former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson; U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas; U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida; U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, of Kentucky; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Fox News anchors Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace will moderate the main debate, in which each candidate will get one minute to answer questions from the moderators, with other candidates called on for rebuttals of up to 30 seconds. Candidates mentioned by their rivals will get a chance to respond at a length decided by the moderators. The late-afternoon debate is expected to follow a similar, if truncated, format.
Some political commentators say that failing to appear in the prime-time debate will amount to the kiss of death for the also-rans, as donors and the media home in on the first flight of candidates as the anointed ones.
But Jindal and his team downplay the importance of the selection, arguing that the race is a marathon, not a sprint, and that debates coming this early will quickly be forgotten. They are putting their faith in a time-honored strategy for less-established candidates of making a splash by exceeding expectations in a state that decides early in the process, in hopes of capitalizing on the resultant buzz to gain momentum in states to come.
“The first votes will be cast in Iowa at the beginning of February,” Teepell wrote. “Gov. Jindal is gaining momentum there.”
Jindal has campaigned heavily in Iowa and plans to return there the day after the debates. The Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses kick off the formal Republican nomination process, followed by the New Hampshire primary Feb. 8 and the South Carolina primary Feb. 20. Jindal has traveled repeatedly to all three states in the past year.
Because several elements of the 2016 presidential election cycle are largely without precedent, it’s difficult to predict the effect of making or missing the cut for the Thursday prime-time debate.
The sheer size of the Republican field stands out as one anomaly, with 17 entrants who are either current or former governors, current or former U.S. senators or candidates who otherwise enjoy a national reputation. That made for an unwieldy crowd difficult to include on a single debate stage, and so seven candidates of considerable stature have been sent to the kids’ table. But that relegation did not erase their résumés.
Another novel feature of this cycle is the explosive growth of independent political action committees dedicated to the election of a specific candidate. Unfettered by the severe restrictions on the size and source of contributions that apply to official campaign committees, the single-candidate super PACs have collected donations of seven or even eight figures from wealthy individual contributors, far outstripping the kitties amassed by the campaign committees.
While single-candidate super PACS have been around for a few years — federal court decisions in 2010 made them legal — never before have they overshadowed campaign committees and dominated fundraising to the degree they are doing so now. Technically, they cannot coordinate their activities with a campaign, but typically they are staffed with operatives closely connected to the candidates.
Several of the seven also-rans, including Jindal, are supported by well-financed single-candidate super PACs, meaning those candidates can stay in the race for some time, even if their popular support dwindles to almost nothing.
Several candidates and their supporters have criticized the winners-and-losers setup of the Fox News debates. Curt Anderson, a consultant to the Jindal campaign, wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal last month arguing for a come-one, come-all approach. And The New York Times reported Tuesday that Believe Again, the super PAC backing Jindal, will run a 60-second TV commercial in Iowa during the debate that criticizes the choice of Ohio as the setting for the event.
In a reaction to the 2012 Republican primary campaign, when candidates trudged to 20 debates, the Republican National Committee this year has sanctioned nine debates from Thursday to March. Candidates who participate in an unsanctioned debate are barred from joining a later, authorized one. Jindal has criticized the effort to keep a lid on the debates.
Jindal, 44, has tacked to the far right end of the ideological spectrum in his campaign, making particular appeals to evangelical Christians, who historically make up more than half of the Republican caucusgoers in Iowa. He has taken especially aggressive positions on illegal immigration and the threat he perceives from radical Islam. He also touts his record as governor in cutting the state budget, reducing the public payroll and creating jobs.