Thirteen Republican presidential campaigns had started the week in a kind of solidarity, brainstorming ideas to make the cable news debates more fair. They ended the week in pathos and disarray, after Fox Business announced that two candidates would be shunted from prime time to an "undercard" debate, and two mainstays of the undercard debate would not make it to the Nov. 10 forum at all.
The campaigns of Gov. Chris Christie (N.J.) and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, in the unique position of being booted from the main stage, responded through gritted teeth. "I'm happy to debate anyone, anywhere, anytime," Huckabee said in a Thursday night statement. "We are months away from actual votes being cast and neither the pundits nor the press will decide this election, the people will."
Christie, who had been steadily gaining in New Hampshire polls, responded to the snub by linking to a viral Huffington Post video of his stump speech. "It doesn’t matter the stage," Christie tweeted. "Give me a podium and I’ll be there to talk about real issues like this." The "real issue" in question was drug addiction, a topic Christie had been talking about for months by discussing the sad fate of a friend who was ruined by painkillers, a story that seemed to be supercharging his campaign until the Fox Business ax fell.
But Christie and Huckabee would at least appear on television. The campaign of Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), who had been roundly praised for his performances in the CNN and CNBC "undercards," was dumbfounded at the decision to cut him out of Tuesday's forum.
"We are sincerely disappointed in FOX Business and the Wall Street Journal’s decision to use the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that only listed ten candidates as options rather than the full field," said Christian Ferry, Graham's campaign manager and a prime mover in this past Sunday's meeting of candidates over the debate rules. "It is ironic that the only veteran in the race is going to be denied a voice the day before Veterans Day."
Former New York governor George Pataki also didn't qualify for either debate.
The gripe of every sidelined campaign was that, in a year when pollsters have been caught short in race after race, national polling has been prioritized over state polling to cast the televised debates. In averages of New Hampshire polls, Christie has climbed ahead of Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.); in Iowa polls, Huckabee and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, had more support than Gov. John Kasich (Ohio). Yet Kasich and Paul would appear in prime time, while the much-liked Graham would stay home.
"Disagree with debate rules that prevent [Graham's] voice from being heard — his foreign policy message is an important one in particular," tweeted Jeb Bush, whose struggling campaign easily met the Fox Business standards.
In an interview this week, Graham said he intended to stay in the race until he had a chance to confront frontrunner Donald Trump onstage.
"I'm not going anywhere," Graham said. "I'm going to stick to what I'm doing. I've always thought that using national polling this way has been ridiculous. I just want to turn to Donald Trump, before this campaign is over, and say: 'Tell me what you're going to do in Syria. Tell me how you're going to build a wall on the border.'"