It’s crunch time for the crowded Republican field. Next Tuesday, Fox News will send out 10 invites to the first GOP presidential debate, which will take place two days later in Cleveland. Who makes it onto the main stage—and who’s doesn’t—will be decided by an average of the five most recent national polls recognized by the network as of Aug. 4 at 5 p.m. ET. That, to put it mildly, is less than a scientific process: As plenty of pollsters have noted, it’s almost akin to drawing straws for the final few spots. Nonetheless, those are the rules Fox News came up with, and those are the rules the Republican Party signed off on—so those are the rules we have.
In theory, a candidate could survive being left out of the main event and still catch fire, either at the televised GOP kids’ table that will precede the debate or on the trail later. In reality, though, it would take a minor miracle for any of them to convince voters, donors, and the media that they’re worth the attention moving forward. Given that, what happens over the next seven days should provide the first major winnowing of a campaign that is still six months away from its first official nominating contest. Here’s a quick rundown of where things stand heading into the home stretch. (We’ll continue to update this post between now and decision day as major news warrants.)
1.) Donald Trump
RealClearPolling average: 18.2 percent
Debate status: Lock.
Much to the dismay of the GOP establishment, The Donald is very much still around. Even his real-war-heroes-don’t-get-captured shtick hasn’t derailed his campaign. He’s finished atop five of the six most recent national polls, and placed a close second in the other. The laws of politics (and general decorum) have yet to catch up with Trump; they’re unlikely to before next Tuesday.
2.) Jeb Bush
RCP average: 13.7 percent
Debate status: Lock
Bush was expected to run a shock-and-awe campaign that would clear a crowded field. His massive fundraising totals aside, though, the biggest shock of his campaign has been how little he’s controlled the race. Still, the former Florida governor remains the establishment favorite and has continued to poll in the top-three pretty much all year long. Trump may be stealing the spotlight but he doesn’t appear to be actually stealing Jeb’s support.
3.) Scott Walker
RCP average: 11.7 percent
Debate status: Lock
Walker would prefer the national conversation was focused on Iowa, which will hold the first nominating contest of 2016 and where the Wisconsin governor currently sits atop the polls. But Walker remains safely in the top-tier in the national surveys. In the past six polls, Walker has three second-place finishes to his name.
4.) Marco Rubio
RCP average: 6.8 percent
Debate status: Near-Lock
The final member of the GOP establishment’s Big Three, Rubio hasn’t exactly lived up to that title. The Florida senator hasn’t been able to keep pace with Bush and Walker in the polls and currently finds himself at the top of the main heap. Still, with his name recognition and perceived frontrunner status, Rubio will have the chance in Cleveland to right the ship.
5.) Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson
RCP average: 6.0 percent a piece
Debate status: Safe
Two favorites of the Evangelical set, Huckabee and Carson have remained in the thick of the nominating contest for months. Carson has done so rather quietly, winning over voters at GOP cattle calls and on conservative media. Huckabee, meanwhile, has begun to make as much noise as he possibly can—even if that means adding his own corollary to Godwin’s Law in the process.
7.) Ted Cruz and Rand Paul
RCP average: 5.7 percent a piece
Debate status: Safe
Both senators have yet to live up to the hype that preceded their presidential campaigns—and both have turned increasingly desperate to stand out in a crowded field that continues to be dominated by Trump. Cruz has tried to buddy up with the billionaire frontrunner, while simultaneously lobbing bombs at his own party’s establishment on the Senate floor. Paul, meanwhile, has proved he’s willing to do just about anything short of setting himself on fire to get some of the attention being bestowed upon Trump. So far, though, stunts like taking a chainsaw to the U.S. tax code haven’t been able to steal the show from a professional showman.
9.) Chris Christie
RCP average: 3.0 percent
Debate status: Nervous
Four years ago, GOP powerbrokers were begging for the New Jersey governor to make a White House run. This year? Not so much. Bridgegate didn’t help things, but neither has his shifting position on Common Core or his moderate position on climate change. Two months ago he seemed like a safe bet to be on stage in Cleveland, but now he has his work cut out for him.
10.) John Kasich
RCP average: 2.2 percent
Debate status: Nervous
Kasich may have timed his official launch perfectly. Less than three weeks ago the Ohio governor sat three places and about two points away from snagging the final invite to a primetime event in his own backyard. Thanks to a post-announcement bump, he’s since inched into the top ten with less than a week to go. Helping his cause: A recent surge in New Hampshire, which may earn him some valuable free media over the next week.
11.) Rick Perry
RCP average: 2.0 percent
Debate status: Desperate
Perry is in real danger of missing out on the debate stage. Of the entire field, he’s been the most willing to go directly after Trump, calling the reality TV star a “cancer on conservatism.” Unless he finds some late momentum, though, the former Texas governor might be left to watch from home and yell insults at his television. The good news for Perry? If he misses out on the debate he’ll be spared reliving his “Oops” debacle from four years ago on a continuous cable news loop next week.
All three are within one percentage point of the all-important tenth place—but time isn’t on their side. None have managed to really catch fire, even briefly, during the early campaign, and it’s unclear how they might pull off the trick before the buzzer sounds. Still, they’ll certainly try given a few points in a single poll this week could decide their respective fates. Watch out for something big from one or more of them in the next couple of days.
15.) Lindsey Graham
RCP average: 0.2 percent
Debate status: Say Never