How Far Will GOP Candidates Go to Get Into Next Week's Debate?

Trailing in the polls, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee grabbed the media's attention this weekend by claiming that President Barack Obama's nuclear agreement with Iran is "marching the Israelis to the door of the oven." On Friday, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz made headlines by calling fellow Republican Mitch McConnell—the Senate Majority Leader—a liar on the Senate floor. A few days before that, Rand Paul literally took a chainsaw to the tax code over an electric-guitar rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner."

The first Republican presidential debate is next Thursday on Fox News. And under rules set by Fox (with the blessing of the Republican National Committee), just 10 of the 16 declared major candidates—those with the highest average in the five most recent national polls leading up to the debate—will get a spot on the stage. Participants in the second debate, hosted by CNN in September, will also be selected based largely on polling averages. The result is a last-minute scramble by the candidates to crack the top 10 any way they can.

"So what's the best way to make news?" asks Republican strategist Ford O'Connell. "Say something that's a little bit off-color."

The battle for media coverage is made that much tougher because Trump is "sucking up all the oxygen in the room," says O'Connell, who worked on John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. But O'Connell doesn't blame Fox or the RNC for the frenzied rush to make it into the top 10 and the "off-color" comments it's producing. With 16 declared candidates, they have to winnow the field somehow to make the debates work, he says.

Read more from Pema Levy at Mother Jones

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