Analysis: Fiorina Gets Results as CNN Caves on Debate Rules

Posted: Sep 02, 2015 10:35 AM
Analysis: Fiorina Gets Results as CNN Caves on Debate Rules

As Christine reported last evening, CNN has reevaluated the much-maligned participation threshold rules for its upcoming Republican presidential debate. As a result, Carly Fiorina will likely qualify for the 'main stage' forum; absent the change, the surging candidate would likely have been on the outside looking in. The previous standard's flaws were readily apparent, as National Review editor Rich Lowry explains:

CNN tried its best back in May to come up with fair, transparent standards for who will occupy the ten slots in its prime-time debate. It’s just that in the real world they make no sense. Consider the perversity of the CNN criteria. They will almost certainly exclude Fiorina, even though she is seventh in the current RealClearPolitics national polling average, ahead of John Kasich, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul and Chris Christie, among others; even though she tied for seventh in CNN’s own national poll in mid-August; and even though she has been surging in the early states, popping up to third place in the latest Iowa and New Hampshire polls, ahead of both Jeb Bush and Scott Walker...What happened? CNN decided to use polls going all the way back to July 16, weeks before the first Fox debate on Aug. 6 scrambled the field. This reaches back to a period when Fiorina was routinely polling at one or zero. On top of this, CNN is only considering polls from select organizations. Some of these polling outfits or news organizations aren’t doing national tracking polls of the Republican race; one of them — McClatchy-Marist — hasn’t done a poll since it said it doesn’t want its surveys used to determine debate eligibility; and others seem likely to wait until after the CNN debate to do their next survey. All of this means, perversely, that there will probably be more polls from before the first debate included in the CNN formula than after the debate. So, in effect, Fiorina’s performance in the first debate is wiped out.

Was wiped out, that is. This unjust formula has rightly been jettisoned for a more sensible one: Namely, the ten (and possibly more) strongest Republicans according to current, post-Cleveland polls will take the stage in Simi Valley on September 16.  Kudos to CNN for doing the right thing and rectifying a glaring, correctable wrong.  An even bigger tip of the cap is due to the Fiorina campaign, which effectively turned up the heat and forced the change.  When her polling position didn't earn her a spot at Fox News' debate in Ohio, Carly's team didn't whine about the decision. She hadn't earned it, they said, and she'd do her best to distinguish herself at the so-called 'undercard' debate.  Fiorina proceeded to do precisely that, winning universal praise as the exchange's decisive winner.  Having subsequently shot up in national and early state surveys, Fiorina's campaign recognized that CNN's pre-determined regulations relied on front-loaded polling that didn't reflect the shifting landscape.  Adopting new tactics, they went on offense, alleging that CNN and the Republican National Committee were conspiring to protect flawed, outmoded rules.  Their relentless, targeted, savvy strategy pushed all the right anti-establishment buttons, culminating in yesterday's petition signed by 250 prominent supporters demanding a change.  Within hours, CNN announced its revamped system.  Fiorina's deputy campaign manager declared victory on Twitter:

The campaign emailed a statement from Fiorina herself to those Townhall readers who helped push for this change: "We are so grateful for the support of Townhall readers for helping us challenge the political establishment and send out the message of grassroots activists from around the country," the former CEO said.  And thus concludes a political masterstroke: Fiorina avoided petty griping prior to the first debate, performed brilliantly on the smaller stage, gained in stature, framed a resulting struggle as a battle against the entrenched establishment, cultivated and mobilized allies -- and won.  The rest of the GOP field could learn a lot from Carly's example.  Now that she's achieved this goal (which may come at the expense of Rand Paul or Chris Christie), the pressure is now on for her to perform under the bright lights.  Fiorina -- whose unremittingfocused criticism of Hillary Clinton has won plaudits among conservatives -- also unleashed one of the more cutting lines about GOP frontrunner Donald Trump in Cleveland.  He responded in characteristically ad hominem fashion:

Now the two will have an opportunity to tangle face-to-face, and Carly will have a platform from which to introduce herself to a much wider audience.  This month's CNN forum is co-sponsored by Townhall's parent company, Salem Media Group.  Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt will join CNN's team to pose questions to the assembled candidates.