As we approach the first presidential debates on the Republican side of the primaries, several political analysts and campaign managers are criticizing Fox News for limiting the field to the top ten candidates. Done in an attempt to exercise some measure of control over a campaign field that seemingly grows wider every day, the “top ten” strategy has been a matter of some controversy. And as August 6 draws closer, the criticism is growing sharper.
“The Republican Party should be looking forward instead of backward,” Curt Anderson – an adviser to candidate Bobby Jindal – wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, “and seeking every opportunity to feature its roster of excellent candidates, rather than trying to find ways to constrict the field.”
Another Republican strategist agreed. Alex Castellanos, a former Romney campaign adviser, dispatched an email demonstrating the folly of Fox’s logic. “Every single GOP candidate who doesn’t qualify to stand on the debate stage is within 2 percentage points of the last candidate to make the cut. Yet we are excluding these candidates via 1,000-sample surveys with a 3.5 percent margin of error at the 95 percent confidence level?”
So what’s the answer?
Let ‘Em All Debate
Look, we’re fooling ourselves if we pretend like these televised debates are a forum for serious political discussion. If you choose who to vote for based on how deftly they handle themselves in one of these events, you’re an idiot. The ability to shine in a public debate has nothing to do with the ability to lead the country. Bill Clinton was one of the smoothest orators to ever sit in the White House, but that damn sure didn’t make him a great president.
But these debates do have an important role to play in the primary process. They provide much-needed exposure for candidates who don’t have the luxury of pre-existing name recognition. They introduce voters to candidates who aren’t in the headlines every day with their shocking statements on immigration. They level the playing field for just a couple of hours, which is sometimes all it takes. The studious voter may hear something from Ben Carson that piques their interest. From there, they may go onto Carson’s website to read about his platform. They get informed, they get involved, and maybe they get a little more interested about the political process.
Since the mid-90s, Fox News Channel has been conservatism’s best mainstream friend. Like an oasis in a sea of liberalism, the cable channel has finally given voice to the millions of Americans ignored by New York City elitists. We must watch them closely, though, to make sure they do not become what they have despised for so long. The internet has freed us from needing to depend on the mainstream media for our news. Fox needs to understand this new reality and stop trying to force a square peg into a round hole.