It is now less than a month before the first Republican primary debate to be held in Cleveland on August 6th. Being selected to take part in the debate has suddenly become a very important measure of candidate viability and some serious kvetching has begun about the method of selecting who will be among the ‘elite’ (I use the word loosely) that will be invited to participate. Here’s a list of 17 declared or likely Republican candidates who have achieved some level of name-recognition, but there are about a dozen more that no one other than their families know are running.
Jeb Bush, Donald Trump, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, John Kasich, and Jim Gilmore.
The current rule for selection to the debate is that the top ten based on the average of five recent national polls will be chosen and the rest will be sent to what has been derisively referred to as the ‘kiddie table’ that will consists of some kind of discussion group held just before the main event. This latter event is so obviously a warm up act created as a sop to those perceived as losers that one wonders if any of those sent to that wilderness will feel it insulting to accept and think it a better strategy to angrily denounce the whole thing and walk off in a huff.
The main problem with this selection process becomes immediately apparent when one looks at the result of such an average as of July 7. (Gilmore and Pataki are not included)
- Jeb Bush – 15.4 %
- Scott Walker – 10.8%
- Ben Carson – 10%
- Marco Rubio – 8.8%
- Rand Paul – 7.6%
- Mike Huckabee – 7.4%
- Donald Trump – 6%
- Ted Cruz – 4.8%
- Rick Perry – 3.8%
- Chris Christie – 3.6%
- Rick Santorum – 2.2%
- Carly Fiorina – 2%
- John Kasich – 1.6%
- Lindsey Graham – 1.4%
- Bobby Jindal – 1.2%
The problem is that with 17 candidates, the average poll numbers are around 6% and since all these polls have a margin of error of around 3%, you have a situation where some people are going to be in and others out largely on the basis of random chance. And they are not going to be happy.
The other problem is that since all you need is a bump in your polls by a couple of points to make a difference, and since simple name recognition can give you that, this creates a temptation for the lower ranked candidates to say something, anything at all, that will get them a lot of free publicity in the media and boost their poll numbers. And the way to do that is to say something so off-the-wall that the media will cluster around you. Donald Trump is the model here, though Mike Huckabee is no slouch when it comes to getting news headlines by saying outrageous things.
Some are suggesting that allowing a television network to make such rules for the party nominating process is not at all seemly. Lindsey Graham has already blasted the Republican party’s propaganda organ Fox News for their ‘dumb rules’. He has suddenly discovered the evil of money dominating American elections.
Graham further stressed that he wasn’t just angry at the rules on his own behalf. He repeatedly said Fox’s poll-driven process is “destroying” the opportunity for all of the scrappy, underfunded candidates to win over voters in the small, early primary states.
“It’s not about me,” he said. “Under this construct, nobody really cares about coming to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina any more. It’s all about money. And what you’re going to reward, over time, is the people with the most money. And you’re destroying the early primary process. And I think that’s bad for the Republican Party.”
It is clear that the party is fearful of this whole debate eligibility thing becoming some sort of gladiatorial death match where the candidates decide that in order to survive they need to destroy the person just above them. Some of the big money interests in the party, while backing the candidates they have purchased, are at the same time concerned that the infighting will hurt their party’s chances in the general election and are trying to calm things down. After all, every single Republican candidate will be a faithful slave to the oligarchy. They only differ in the margins. No doubt these people with the deep pockets think that voicing their disapproval will bring their candidates to heel. Josh Voorhees thinks that they should not be too sanguine.
So, will the Republican hopefuls listen to them? Don’t bet on it. Even if the GOP’s donor class were to make civility an explicit requirement of candidates who seek their support, the promise of millions in super PAC cash tomorrow means little to those candidates who need the spotlight today. And with the exception of Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio, the entire Republican field is desperate for attention. With less than a month until Fox News hands out 10 all-important invites to the first GOP debate, most candidates simply can’t afford to play nice. When a single point in the polls could mean the difference between making it on the national stage and being left off of it, simply generating headlines becomes the name of the game. That’s in large part why Lindsey Graham is attacking Rand Paul, why Paul is lashing out at pretty much everyone, and why Chris Christie has declared that Republicans don’t need Ted Cruz’s “lectures.” Often the easiest way to the top of a pile is by pulling those above you down.
As for me, I am expecting to see a mud-throwing spectacle among a bunch of thoroughly unlikable people.