Sponsors of the first two Republican presidential candidate debates have come up with criteria for who gets to participate, and it’s all a bit of a mess.

For the first debate, in Cleveland on August 6, it’s pretty simple, per this explanation from RealClearPolitics’s Caitlin Huey-Burns:

Facing the unprecedented dilemma of having more candidates (19, plus or minus) than a single stage can reasonably bear, Fox News announced it would only accept the top 10 contenders for the first debate in Cleveland Aug. 6.

Invitations will be extended to candidates based on their latest poll numbers, approved by Fox News and Facebook, the hosts of the first debate. Entrants will have had to have formally registered for a presidential campaign with the Federal Election Commission and have paid all necessary federal and state filing fees.

The polling threshold threatens to cut from the debate stage a handful of candidates, including some who represent the diversity the party would like to showcase as it seeks to broaden its electoral appeal.

No doubt about it. Right now the Top Ten criteria would exclude Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham and John Kasich. The last two represent that rarest of quantities in this field, something approaching ideological diversity.

But hey, there may be a consolation prize:

Fox News seemed to recognize the potential controversy of excluding some candidates, pledging to provide additional coverage and airtime on the day of the debate for candidates who do not place in the top 10.

Whatever that means. Maybe the leftovers will be allowed to phone in.

But the second debate, to be sponsored by CNN on September 16 at the Ronald Reagan presidential library, will actually involve two debates, per Politico‘s Dylan Byers:

The CNN Republican primary debate on Sept. 16 will be divided into two parts featuring two different sets of candidates: those who rank in the top 10 according to public polling, and the remaining candidates who meet a minimum threshold of 1 percent in public polling, the On Media blog has learned.

And for some reason, the less popular candidate debate will apparently go first. This is all on a Wednesday night, so maybe it will be coordinated with the season opener of Modern Family, since no one will be watching the “minor” pols anyway.

If there’s any precedent for a second, “minor” debate, I’m not sure what it is. I vaguely recall that in 1972 one of the major networks created an event for “minor party” presidential candidates; I’m not sure it was a debate, but I distinctly remember the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party candidate Linda Jenness, who was from Georgia, showing up wearing a giant happy face button. Maybe that could work for Bobby Jindal.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.