With barely a week to go before next Thursday’s first GOP debate, Fox News seems to have finally settled on the structure for the event, if not the exact criteria for who will get a seat on the main stage. One of the chief questions plaguing the selection process since it was first announced was how they could possibly be fair in dividing up the second and third tier candidates who would appear at an “alternate forum” which we now know will take place at 5 pm eastern on the same day. If they are using an average of the national polls, how do you justify giving a seat to somebody who is polling at 1.1% but not 0.9% which effectively reflects three people not being home when the pollsters called?

The problem is now solved, since basically all the declared candidates (of media approved national stature) will be able to show up for the five o’clock kids’ table. (Politico)

Fox News is opening its 5 p.m. debate to all the announced Republican candidates who fail to make the cut for the Aug. 6 prime-time event, removing a requirement that participants reach at least 1 percent in polling.

The change amounts to an insurance policy for candidates who were in danger of being disqualified from the vital first debate based on low polls – Carly Fiorina, former New York Gov. George Pataki and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)…

This is going to make ten people very happy and pretty much nobody else. Politico is looking at the most likely set of polls to be used and as of today the big show will certainly include Trump, Bush, Walker, Rubio, Cruz, Paul, Huckabee and Carson. Less sure, and still subject to the whim of the pollsters, are Chris Christie and Rick Perry.

When you look at who is left over, Fox’s decision seems to make sense at first glance, assuming you accept that there’s only room for ten. (Big assumption for a lot of folks.) Kasich, Santorum and Jindal were all above 1% but a three person debate seems rather weak compared to ten. And how do you shut out Carly Fiorina if Santorum and Jindal are “good enough” for consideration? And once you put them in you may as well include George Pataki, so that’s what they’re going to do.

But what about Jim Gilmore? As we discussed earlier, by the time this debate happens he will be in the race officially and he’s been in the game long enough that I assume he’ll have his paperwork filed. I suppose he automatically goes to the kids’ table also unless there’s some amazing weekend surge for him in the polls. (And if there were, it sounds like either Christie or Perry heads to the junior varsity show. That would produce some fireworks to be sure.)

But how are we determining who is nationally significant and a real candidate? Believe it or not, those seventeen are far from the entire stable in technical terms. The full list of declared candidates – including not just Republicans and Democrats, but Libertarians, Independents, communists and more – is actually far longer than the two dozen or so we regularly see around the table on the Sunday shows. How about Skip Anderson? Or Jefferson Sherman? (And come on… how do you pass on a guy with a name like Jefferson Sherman?)

Is the five o’clock slot really a fair shake? That’s eastern time, so lots of people – even in that time zone – will still be at work or on the way home. The rest of the country largely won’t be anywhere near a television. There’s a distinct difference in the media pedigree of the moderators, as well, as noted by Peter Weber at The Week.

The “kid’s table” debate will also be moderated by lower-profile moderators, Bill Hemmer and Martha MacCallum. The later one will feature Megyn Kelly, Bret Baier, and Chris Wallace.

And that doesn’t begin to address the fact that we really want to see the candidates challenging each other, not performing for the moderators. In an ideal world the various contenders could put forth their own proposals and critique those of their opponents. But we won’t see that interaction between the “leaders” and some of the other very interesting candidates like Fiorina.

And yet, with all that said, I can’t come down too hard on Fox or stamp my feet over their decision. In order to do that I’d need to have a better idea, and honestly I don’t. The only thing I can still suggest is to have the second debate on Friday at 9 rather than an early show that few people will see. But that doesn’t solve the interaction problem. And randomizing it might have been “fair” but we’d still be leaving people out in the cold. In the end I suppose we’ll just take what we get and see if anyone has a breakthrough moment with the public. Cross your fingers.