Trump's far right positions have kept him center stage at debates

Three Key Themes in the GOP Debate
Three Key Themes in the GOP Debate

Whether or not he'll continue to stand corrected, spotlight-stealing Donald Trump is all set to take center stage at yet another GOP debate in the next melee on Thursday.

FOX Business, which will be hosting the first Republican debate in Las Vegas, made the lineup announcement on Monday, shaking things up (as predicted) by cutting the main stage candidate field to a new low of seven. In order of rank, the contenders duking it out will be Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich.

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Stage position equals status in presidential debates, and Trump's coveted number one spot hardly comes as a surprise anymore, given his polling numbers and continued streak of popularity. It's a distinction he's been known to brag about, reminding his fellow candidates, "I'm very good at [discussing issues of border control and building up the military] and maybe that's why I'm center stage. People saw it. People liked it. People respected it," at the last debate. Self-declared ratings gold, Trump has drawn in viewers and dominated debate Twitter with his trademark facial expressiveness and outlandish comments, and Thursday is expected to be no different.

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The candidates' positioning in previous debates leaves a telltale trail that charts the slow, steady rise of both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who will be standing on either side of Trump at second and third place, respectively. Cruz has gradually zig-zagged his way closer and closer to center stage.

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The staging chart also reveals the meandering path by which both Ben Carson and Jeb Bush have wandered away from prominence. Though Carson experienced an early surge in support, leading in polls back in October, his debate placement betrays a campaign in decline. On Thursday, he will be practically in the wings with a poll rating of four, buffered on the outside only by Jeb. Similarly, Bush, having been recently deemed the least favorable candidate by Republican voters, has been steadily slinking way from the center, reinforcing the truth behind his main sparring partner's smug comments at the last debate:

While Trump's continued debate reign is unsurprising, some were shocked to find that former big talker Rand Paul was to be relegated to the undercard debate for the first time—not least of which was Paul himself, who announced he will boycott the event. "It's kind of ridiculous to arbitrarily rate the campaigns based on national polling," he told the Washington Post, adding that his recent rise in polling belied FOX's "faulty analysis" in a campaign press release. Trump, known for hurling insults on stage, previously said, "First of all, Rand Paul shouldn't even be on this stage...there are far too many people anyway," at the second debate after observing he was "having a hard time," at the first. Fiorina, who has been consistently placed on the main stage since September following complete domination in the August undercard, has remained tight-lipped.

Presidential hopeful—or hopeless, depending on how you look at it—John Kasich, (polling in seventh according to FOX) has clung on at the fringes, having just barely surpassed Paul and Fiorina to make it onto the stage this week.

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