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Opening Arguments

The starting lineup

Now we know the linuep of 10 candidates whose poll numbers qualify them for the main Fox News debate stage tomorrow night:

Real estate magnate Donald Trump; former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson; Texas Sen. Ted Cruz; Florida Sen. Marco Rubio; Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

That means we also know seven who will be on the debate-lite stage earlier in the evening.

But former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and several others will not be on the prime-time, 9 p.m. ET stage. The seven who did not make the top 10 will be invited to a separate 5 p.m. ET debate. Aside from Perry and Santorum, this includes Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal; former HP head Carly Fiorina; South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham; former New York Gov. George Pataki; and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore.

The one I'd most like to move to the big debate is Carly Fiorina. She's really been impressive in the way she turns journalists' "gotcha!" questions around on them. The one I'd move to the kids' table is Mike Huckabee. His big-government conservatism doesn't wear well, and he's an also-ran from another election cycle. Let that sort of thing stay with the Democrats.

Some are saying that the early-eveing debate, being Donald Trumpless, might be more interesting and informative than the gib debate. But since it's not in prime time, not enough people may see it for that to mean anything.

I still really hate this format. Using a candidate's standing in the national polls more than a year away from the election as a guide for inclusion doesn't make any sense. The whole point of debates is supposed to be that we get to see who the candidates are and form an opinion about them. Winnowing them down before the first debate even begins doesn't give the ones trailing a chance to build support. It's one version of the self-fulfilling prophecy. Their low standing keeps them out, increasing the likelihood their standing will remain low.