While we are still six months away from the first Republican Party caucus in Iowa, and fifteen months from the 2016 election, Fox News is feverishly promoting its exclusive presentation of the very first primary debate among the candidates for the GOP nomination for president. Can you feel the excitement?
The debate which will take place on Thursday will feature ten candidates selected by the powers that be at Fox News. The remaining seven losers will get their own kiddie matinee affair in an earlier afternoon timeslot. Fox manufactured the selection process and provided the means for the candidates to attempt to influence it. Fox’s method of using the average of the five most recent national polls has been repudiated by nearly every independent expert. The value of national polls at this stage of an election is literally zilch since very few candidates have mounted national campaigns, preferring to build support in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire. What’s more, the variance in the numbers between the candidates is within the margin of error for the majority of the field. Therefore, it is absurd to use such polls to determine who is ahead.
Nevertheless, Fox News has committed to this method of selection. Well, except for the fact that, for some inexplicable reason, they decided to skip the fifth most recent poll (by Monmouth) and instead average in the sixth (by Quinnipiac). This breach of their own rule results in advancing Ohio governor John Kasich into the primetime debate in place of Texas governor Rick Perry. That’s significant because it would look bad if the governor of the state where the debate is being held (Cleveland, OH) were excluded from participating. Also of significance is that Kasich is a close personal friend of Fox News CEO Roger Ailes and a former employee who hosted his own Fox show for six years. But I’m sure that had nothing to do with it.
Adding to the absurdity is that candidates hoping to be in the primetime debate had to goose their standings in the polls to assure themselves a spot. And, of course, the best way to reach prospective Republican poll respondents is to advertise on Fox News. So this sham methodology does serve the purpose of inflating Fox’s bank account.
Now that the ten lucky Primetimers have been identified, Fox has also revealed their placement on the debate stage. For some unexplained reason they decided that the candidates with the highest average poll numbers would be placed in the center. Why? As previously noted, the earliness of the election season and the surveys’ margins of error make the poll numbers irrelevant. However, the stage placement does have a visual impact that casts the center spots as stars and the fringes as supporting players (or literally fringe candidates). It would have been more fair and balanced had Fox assigned spots randomly or alphabetically or by how many Reagan bobbleheads they can stuff up their bum.
This sports bracket-style staging puts reality TV star Donald Trump right where he wants to be. He is effectively in the CEO’s spot in the boardroom from where he can point at his rivals and fire them. He will be in nearly every shot where his reactions will become a key part of the program whether or not he is speaking. Fox News should have just dropped the facade and let Trump have a gold-plated podium with his name in big capital letters. They could also give him above-the-title billing. You have to wonder whether these things were part of the contract rider demands submitted by the Trump team.
The content of the debate can be predicted with a fairly high degree of probability. Kira Lerner at ThinkProgress has already done so in article outlining “11 Things You’ll Probably Hear During The First GOP Debate That Are Totally False.” Indeed, the debates will be an extended opportunity for Republicans to bitch about how awful America is and how much worse it will get if Hillary Clinton is elected next year. By having to split the debates into two programs it actually creates even more time for the bitchfest. If you watch both debates you will have spent a marathon three and a half hours exposed to right-wing hate and fear mongering. This might be a good time to invest in pharmaceuticals or distilleries because the use of anti-depressants and alcohol are sure to spike during and after these programs.
Finally, if anyone is expecting Fox’s moderators to be fair and balanced, you will be sorely disappointed. Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly, and Chris Wallace have proven themselves to be shamelessly biased. This does not always mean favoritism toward the Republican Party, but also favoritism within certain factions of the party or for favorites of the network’s bosses. Even the candidates are suspicious of the impartiality of the moderators. The New Yorker’s Gabriel Sherman disclosed that Trump’s organization is already complaining:
“Given Fox’s power to shape the 2016 GOP primary, campaigns are taking an aggressive approach to lobbying Ailes before Thursday’s debates. According to a source close to the Trump campaign, Trump’s friend Rudy Giuliani called the Fox chief the other day and asked Ailes to make sure Megyn Kelly doesn’t go after Trump in her questioning. The feeling inside the Trump campaign — following an on-air grilling in May — is that Kelly doesn’t like Trump.”
So the candidates feel that it’s appropriate to try to bully the moderators into going soft. That is not a left-field assumption since GOP chairman Reince Priebus explicitly cited that as a reason for taking more control over the debate process (control that he subsequently ceded to Fox News). Two years ago as he was drafting plans for 2016 Priebus said that…
“…the thing that is ridiculous is allowing moderators, who are not serving the best interests of the candidate and the party, to actually be the people to be deposing our people. And I think that’s totally wrong.”
So Priebus has declared that the debate moderators are there to serve the interests of the party and the candidates – not the voters or democracy or the country. By that standard we can expect that the demands by Trump’s surrogates, and those of the other candidates, will be adhered to. From the party’s perspective the debates are nothing more than free television advertising time and the moderators are prohibited from trying to elicit anything of substance from them.
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That said, I think the moderators will stray from the straight and narrow path that Priebus has proscribed. They will do so out of a desire to maintain a sliver of self-respect. So expect a challenging question or two that will enable them to say afterwards that they were professional and probing. Of course, asking a probing question does not guarantee a substantive response. My prediction is that there will be nothing substantive revealed during the entire three and a half hour affair. The best we can hope for with regard to entertainment value is if someone successfully provokes Trump into a meltdown, which shouldn’t be that hard to do.