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Special Report

The state of the first 2016 debates

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," August 4, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Welcome back to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the museum in Cleveland. The 10 are now set for the prime-time debate 9 to 11 p.m. eastern time. You can see their positioning on the stage based on where they finished in the average of five polls, five recent polls, the most recent.

And there you see the lineup. One of the people who did not make it to that 10th spot is former Texas governor Rick Perry. He just moments ago tweeted out, "I look forward to being at FOX News 5 p.m. debate for what will be a serious exchange of ideas and positive solutions to get America back on track."

Let's bring in our panel back in the studio in Washington, syndicated columnist George Will, Ron Fournier, senior political columnist of National Journal, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. OK, Charles, thoughts on the 10 and thoughts on the debate as we get closer.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, obviously the most interesting and unexpected as of a month ago is Trump in the center. But I think the more recent surprises, first of all, are Kasich that he makes the top 10. He came in very late. He holds down the left wing of the GOP. He's a bleeding heart conservative like Jack Kemp, and he's there. And I think he has the kind of experience in debates, political experience, going back almost 20 years where I think he could handle himself really well.

The other surprise, Marco Rubio is in the group but relatively low down. He's slipped over the last couple of weeks.

And the last is Dr. Ben Carson. You would have thought that with Trump taking all the space with a nonpolitician Carson would suffer. But he's going to be two people over. He's going to be almost in the middle. And that I think is remarkable. He's sort of the hare in the race. No, he's the tortoise, actually. That's not hard to mix up. He's slow, he's steady, he's quiet. But he's staying there, and he's got staying power.

BAIER: Ron, your thoughts?

RON FOURNIER, NATIONAL JOURNAL: I agree with everything there. I think the one big dynamic we have going on this election is that with everybody jockeying to get into the debates we have the flame throwing that's dragging the candidates to the right, dragging them to the bottom, comments like the president leading Israel to the ovens and questioning the president's Christianity, the kind of things I think over the long term will both nationalize the primary process where it's better off if it's localized, and brings it to the extremes.

BAIER: George, thoughts on the stage?

GEORGE WILL, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, I think a lot of people are probably disappointed that Carly Fiorina isn't on the stage, a, because she's a woman and goes against the Democrat's recycled narrative this time about the war on women, and also because she's quite articulate and quite good.

The person who has the toughest job it seems to me is Bret Baier because you've got 120 minutes. If you take out 10 minutes for housekeeping, welcome to Cleveland, thanks for watching, here are the candidates, and the time it takes to hand off the questions one to another, you're down at least to 110 minutes. Now, I'm not a math major. But 10 divided into 110 is 11 minutes per person. There are limits to how much good or damage you can do to yourself in that time.

So each candidate has to think carefully about what impression he wants to leave in 10 minutes. I think that most of them have been working hard on this. Donald Trump says that he's not preparing for this. Since he's running, as far as I can tell, a fact-free campaign, I can understand that.

BAIER: There you go. Let me point out that the other stage earlier is 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. My colleagues Bill Hemmer and Martha MacCallum, seven candidates invited to be on that stage. That includes Carly Fiorina, who you just mentioned. And there you see the positioning again based on polls and where they stand in the average of polls.

Charles, interesting in this debate, there will be efforts to try to make points so that the next time around, the next debate, perhaps they're in the top tier. It's 17 candidates.

KRAUTHAMMER: If you go back to '08, all of the candidates were on one stage. But Mike Huckabee was considered hardly one of the frontrunners, way back in the pack. But he distinguished himself in the debates and he catapulted into the top tier. So it can be done. Of course, it's different when you have two separate debates.

But I would look for Fiorina. She's extremely articulate. She's not that well-known. She had a real uphill struggle to make the 10. She doesn't have the name recognition. She could distinguish herself and end up later on in the top tier. And also Rick Perry, he's much improved over 2012. And he's got the glasses, and that could take him a long way if he does well.

(LAUGHTER)

BAIER: Yes. Ron, you listen to those Ohio voters. And they come from different positions, what's important to them. A number of them mentioned rick per Perry. And people are engaged. They really want to see what happens on Thursday night.

FOURNIER: Yes, I mean I don't care whether you're wearing a red or blue jersey. You're so tired of the leadership we're getting right now you're hungry for something better.

And look, what this 5:00 debate shows just how deep this Republican field is. If I'm counting right there's four governors or former governors, all accomplished. There's two current or former senators. There's a very accomplished CEO in Ms. Fiorina. I would like to think these men and women live up to their accomplishments and don't pander to the least common denominator, because it's a very deep field.

BAIER: George, last word.

GEORGE WILL, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, the question hovering over all this, will Mr. Trump play nicely with others? A veteran Republican consultant now working for Governor Kasich said it's like 16 stock car racers entering a race where they know the 17th driver is going to be drunk, which is to say you don't quite know what you're dealing with in Mr. Trump.

BAIER: You know, but George, you say that. And he is so far up in these polls, not just the FOX poll but across the board. And you have 17 declared candidates, yet he has this huge lead. I mean, how do you explain that if, as you say, it's fact free?

WILL: Well, I think you explain it by the fact that it's all tone. People like the fact, as someone said in the piece you used to set this up, that in an era of suffocating political correctness and synthetic indignation about this, that, and the other thing, it is to many people refreshing to hear a man who simply doesn't care what people think about what he's saying.

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