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Buzz Cut:
• GOP race gets real
• Carson answers charge that he never tried to stab anyone
• Hillary faces test on left wing swing
• Power Play: When’s the reset?
• End the grind with this swine

GOP RACE GETS REAL
Politics is not a meritocracy. One look at politicians ought to tell you that much.

But because of our kindly, patriotic hopes we all like to believe that there is some correlation between a candidate’s performance in the punishing marathon that is a presidential campaign and the qualities required of the office.

As history has shown us, though, the gifts required to become president and be president are rather different.

Even so, you need some method for choosing one person out of the 150 million or so who are technically eligible for the job. You could make applicants perform feats of strength and win a Sudoku tournament, but instead we make them raise money, build a campaign organization and stand in frozen cornfields holding dead pheasants.

It’s a bit arbitrary, sure. But at least there is some overlap between the qualities required for getting the job and doing the job and it mostly works in producing qualified individuals to lead the government.

That process has just entered the next and most important phase: elimination.

It is high time. At this point in the 2012 cycle, Republicans were in between casting out Rick Perry and exalting Herman Cain. It was the start of the second, month-long test drive voters took with four candidates before settling with Mitt Romney.

And with the announcement of the Fox Business Network’s debate lineup for Tuesday’s face off in Milwaukee, the process began in earnest for this cycle.

A smaller number of candidates on the main stage means scrutiny will be greater on the eight who remain. Rather than a boisterous herd of presidential pretenders, the winnowed field will impart the gravity inherent to the job they are seeking.

The trail does not necessarily end here for the two candidates who lost their places on the main stage. But like all of those trying to break out of the gang of 10 splitting up 20 percent of the vote, it is the sign for them that time is growing short.

Not everybody gets to run for president.

If Jeb Bush somehow succeeds in his effort to destroy Marco Rubio, could Chris Christie elbow aside John Kasich and make a late charge for the nomination with a New Hampshire upset? Bush is kaput and Kasich is an impossible sell for mainstream conservatives, so Christie still has a pulse. But is it likely? Not hardly.

Could Mike Huckabee convince Iowa to give him another chance to be the workingman’s champion and vault from seventh place today to victory at caucus time 12 weeks from now? Far-fetched. Even so, some manner of mass extinction event in the top tier could open the way.

Now is when candidates, their families, staffs and donors have to take that long Monday-morning look in the mirror. Is this really going to happen? How? What damage are you doing to your life and the lives of those around you? What damage are you doing to your party?

All of the candidates outside the four in the top tier – Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Rubio – have to have that discussion and they have to do it now. Those who refuse to face reality meet a harsher end in which staffers abandon you, money dries up and families can come apart.

This is the hard time when springtime notions meet cold facts. It is not fun but it is an essential part of picking a president.

“I’m happy to debate anyone, anywhere, anytime. We are months away from actual votes being cast and neither the pundits nor the press will decide this election, the people will.” Former Gov. Mike Huckabee in a statement to FNC.

“It doesn’t matter the stage, give me a podium and I’ll be there to talk about real issues like this…#BringItOn”Gov. Chris Christie tweeted.

Fox News Sunday: Christie talks 2016 - Gov. Chris Christie talks 2016 ahead of next week’s Fox Business/WSJ debate, and Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas joins Mr. Sunday to talk about the Russian plane downed in Egypt. “Fox News Sunday” airs at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. ET on Fox News. Check local listings for air times in your area.

CARSON ANSWERS CHARGE THAT HE NEVER TRIED TO STAB ANYONE
WaPo: “…CNN, which mounted an investigation of the story, claims it cannot find [the] purported victim [of a teenaged Ben Carson’s attempted stabbing] — and the candidate himself has said the names he used in this tale and another from his reportedly violent past were ‘fictitious.’ … In an interview with Fox Thursday night, Carson explained why. In this interview, ‘Bob’ became ‘a close relative.’ ‘The person that I tried to stab, you know, I talked to today,’ Carson said. ‘… They were not anxious to be revealed. It was a close relative of mine, and I didn’t want to put their lives under the spotlight.’ He added: ‘Do you think I’m a pathological liar like CNN does?’”

Trump gonna Trump - Frontrunner Donald Trump tweeted “The Carson story is either a total fabrication or, if true, even worse-trying to hit mother over the head with a hammer or stabbing friend!”

Power Play: What’s next for Carson? - Opponents have attacked him, the media has mocked him, but Ben Carson still lives and remains in the top deck. How does he keep on succeeding? HuffPo’s Paige Lavender and National Review’s Eliana Johnson give their take to Chris Stirewalt. WATCH HERE.

Jeb fundraiser quits over Rubio attacks - The Hill: “Top Florida fundraiser Brian Ballard has quit Jeb Bush’s campaign over its decision to go negative on Marco Rubio, Politico reports. ‘The campaign has become negative, one that is about attacking and trying to bring down Marco Rubio. And that doesn’t sit well — not only with me, but with anyone who knows the two,’ Ballard told the D.C.-based news organization.”

WaPo: Rubio’s story adds up - WaPo took a dive into the five-year history behind Sen. Marco Rubio’s financial past and found that with the current evidence his story about misusing cards, and repaying inaccurate bills matches up.

Round two - WashEx’s David Drucker writes that Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are heading for a collision as the early primary states near: “Both campaigns like their positioning less than 90 days from first votes; both believe a Cruz vs. Rubio finale works to their benefit. ‘The difference is, who went to Washington and stood up, not just to Democrats, but to his own party, on issue after issue?’ a Cruz ally told the Washington Examiner this week …[Rubio aide countered that Rubio is] ‘able to speak to more mainstream conservatives and pull votes from both wings. That’s the big crux…’”

Cruz PAC goes nuclear - WaPo: “A small super PAC supporting the presidential campaign of Sen. Ted Cruz has released a radio ad hitting Sen. Marco Rubio -- in part because they don’t like spots another pro-Cruz super PAC is airing. The Courageous Conservatives PAC created a 60-second radio ad to air in Iowa during talk radio shows slamming Rubio for doing little in the Senate aside from working with others to craft a controversial immigration reform bill that did not pass. ‘We all loved how Marco Rubio took apart Jeb Bush in the debate. Wasn’t it great? But what’s Rubio ever done? Anything? Other than his gang of eight amnesty bill, can anyone think of anything Marco Rubio’s ever done?’ the ad said. ‘Anything at all besides amnesty? Marco Rubio looks good on TV, but that’s about it.’”

[New CNN poll in Iowa - New totals: Trump 25 percent, Carson 23 percent, Rubio 13 percent, Cruz 11 percent, Bush 5 percent, Fiorina 4 percent, Jindal 4 percent, Christie 3 percent, Graham, Huckabee, Kasich and Paul all tie at 2 percent.]

WITH YOUR SECOND CUP OF COFFEE…
Known as America’s conductor, famous for his patriotic marches including “Stars and Stripes Forever” and “The Liberty Bell” John Philip Sousa’s life was always immersed in patriotic tunes. History gives the biography of the man born in Washington on this day in 1854: “Raised in the nation’s capital during the Civil War, Sousa was exposed to military music on a regular basis, and at a time when the role of military bands was not merely to provide entertainment and stoke patriotic fervor among civilians, but sometimes to accompany actual marches onto the field of combat…It was in the late 1880s that he began to make his name not just as the conductor of America’s oldest professional musical organization, but as a composer in the patriotic style of music…Sousa would compose upwards of 300 diverse musical works in his long and prosperous career, but it is his 136 marches for which he is best known.”

Got a TIP from the RIGHT or the LEFT? Email FoxNewsFirst@FOXNEWS.COM

POLL CHECK
Real Clear Politics Averages
Obama Job Approval: Approve
– 45.6 percent//Disapprove – 50.9 percent
Directions of Country: Right Direction – 27.1 percent//Wrong Track – 63.4 percent

HILLARY FACES TEST ON LEFT WING SWING
Hillary Clinton
faces a tough test in South Carolina tonight at a candidate forum moderated by liberal Rachel Maddow, who hasn’t balked at tough questions for Democrats in the past. It may put the test to Clinton’s moves to placate her party’s base. The event with the three remaining Democratic candidates comes as Congress tangles with the Pacific trade deal and President Obama’s decision to forbid the Keystone pipeline – both of which Clinton supported before she didn’t. It also comes on the heels of Bernie Sandersrevival of Clinton’s email scandal.

Power Play: When’s the reset? - HuffPo’s Paige Lavender and National Review’s Eliana Johnson talk with Chris Stirewalt on why Hillary Clinton keeps moving left despite the Democratic race to the nomination being all but officially over. How will she move back to center for the general? WATCH HERE.

Big bucks from Tinseltown - The Hill: “Clinton, who funded two Senate campaigns on lavish Wall Street donations, is now following a fundraising trail that looks more like the road taken by Barack Obama during his White House victories in 2008 and 2012… in the 2016 cycle, she’s flipped the ratio, with her super-PAC and campaign raising $32.7 million from California donors compared to $14.1 million from New York.”

#mediabuzz - Another big week in political media, and host Howard Kurtz breaks it all down. Watch “#mediabuzz” Sunday at 11 a.m. ET, with a second airing at 5 p.m. ET.

END THE GRIND WITH THIS SWINE
It’s been a long week, everybody. So here’s a video of a tiny pig romping in a pile of leaves to make you feel warm and fuzzy, or hungry, or both.

AND NOW A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“If this turns out to be an attack on a Russian airliner…their deterrent is going to be diminished, or they’re going to have a furious response, which could incidentally help us, because it would be against ISIS.” – Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier” Watch here.

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News. Want FOX News First in your inbox every day? Sign up
here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First" political news note and hosts "Power Play," a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace."  He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.