I don’t often concern myself with the “small d” democratic integrity of the Republican Party but I was more than a little shocked to read Fox News will be assuming the role of making the first GOP presidential debate more manageable and, I would have to think, make the ultimate winner more electable.
This week the network announced that for the first Republican debate in August, they’re going to limit the participants to 10 — despite the fact that the number of actual candidates (official or otherwise) could be 15 or even 20. If you haven’t scored high enough in a set of recent polls Fox chooses, then you’re out of luck.
We frequently hear the liberal case that Fox News is the “house organ” of the Republican Party but, as Paul Waldman at The Week writes, “in the 2016 election, the network is becoming something more: a kind of stern boss, setting the agenda, plotting the group’s course, and weeding out the weak performers.”
Again, I’m stretching myself to care about a bunch of Republican candidates who may not be allowed on stage by the movers and shakers at Fox. But it’s the principle, isn’t it?
I can’t believe I’m doing this, but I’m going to quote Rick Santorum approvingly:
“The idea that a national poll has any relationship to the viability of a candidate — ask Rudy Giuliani that, ask Phil Gramm that,” the former Pennsylvania senator told National Journal after a speech at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Oklahoma City. “You can go on down the list of folks who were doing real well in national polls and didn’t win a single state and were not a viable candidate.”
According to Politico, Santorum currently ranks tenth among the GOP hopefuls based on the RealClearPolitics aggregate. On that measures, Ohio Gov. Kasich is just behind Santorum and would presumably be left out, though we don’t know yet what polls Fox News intends to use, but you get the point.
Beside the fact that I don’t love that a corporate media beast like Fox, which always has its own agenda, is making a decision of such importance, I’ve got to think there is a better way to decide who gets in.
Whatever once thinks of Santorum, he gave Romney a run for his money in 2012. Kasich is the governor of Ohio, and we all know what that means in presidential politics. Lindsey Graham, though a long shot, is a hell of a lot more important to the national political debate than Donald Trump. And, not that I’m in the business of advising Republicans, but do they really want to exclude the only female candidate from the debates in a year when the Democratic candidate is likely to be a woman? Same with Ben Carson, who may be in at the moment, but would they really want to exclude him? And on and on and on.
Mr. Waldman writes:
And make no mistake, being excluded from that first debate could be a major blow to a candidate’s campaign. Media attention, money, and poll results influence each other in a constant cycle during the primary. If a candidate isn’t on stage with the big boys at the first major gathering, the news media may decide he (or she) isn’t worth wasting time on, voters will subsequently focus on only the candidates they think have a chance to win, and the candidate will then have an even harder time raising money and will languish in the low single digits. Which means they could be excluded from the next debate, and the cycle will spin them downward to the point where continuing to run seems pointless.
So, I’m going to agree with Rick Santorum and say that polls don’t always tell the whole story.
I’m sure it’s already a done deal, but may I suggest they could have considered hastily putting together a committee consisting of representatives from other conservative media outlets, conservative journalists, academics, uncommitted politicians past and present, etc., which would have been asked to design somewhat more nuanced criteria and then make choices about who participates based on that?
If 15 or 20 on stage is unmanageable, maybe they could have two groupings in each round in which each group is determined by lot, which would change from round to round.
Maybe someone else has a better idea, but giving Rogers Ailes even greater ability to determine what voters are allowed to hear and see and even choose is a bad idea. I’m pretty sure about that.