MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow said Tuesday “the Fox News Channel has killed the early nominating states and their role in choosing who is a contender for the Republican nomination for president.”
Maddow argued that by limiting participation in the upcoming Fox News debate on August 6 in Iowa to ten candidates, and choosing those candidates on the basis of their standing in national polling, the voters in Iowa and New Hampshire were being cut out of the process of choosing who goes forward in the race for the GOP nomination.
While Maddow focused exclusively on Fox, both FNC and CNN have limited debate participation and decided to use national polls as a deciding criteria. A recent analysis by Bloomberg found seven candidates are a near lock to qualify for the Fox News debate. The last three spots on stage, however, will be decided, as Maddow explained, by the tiniest of margins:
Any of them could make it. But Fox News says only three of them will be allowed to compete for the Republican nomination by appearing in the Republican debates. And the only grounds on which they are allowed to compete for those three spots…the only grounds on which they are allowed to compete over the course of the next month: national polls. National poll numbers. That’s it.
In the segment, Maddow concluded candidates would be forced to abandon traditional campaigning in places like Iowa and New Hampshire in favor of the kind of media stunts that might earn them a bump in national polls–all in the hopes of qualifying for the debate and avoiding a sort of certain political death. “Fox News has made it this way; it’s completely unprecedented in American history.”
But it’s hardly unprecedented. In 2008, Ron Paul missed out on a Fox News New Hampshire debate because the network decided the venue–a trailer–was too small.
And on the Democratic side, Dennis Kucinich blasted the media after he was invited to participate in a debate ahead of the Nevada caucus, then un-invited when the criteria for qualifying for the debate changed at the last minute. “When ‘big media’ exert their unbridled control over what Americans can see, hear, and read, then the Constitutional power and right of the citizens to vote is being vetoed by multi-billion corporations that want the votes to go their way.”
In that case, the original criteria for being one of the four candidates in the debate was standing in national polling. When Bill Richardson dropped out, Kucinich moved up to fourth in the polls, and qualified. Then the debate format was changed by the network, cutting the debate to just three candidates. The network? MSNBC.
The decision to un-invite Kucinich led to a court challenge, with NBC arguing in an affidavit to the Nevada Supreme Court that its decision to limit the debate to three candidates (in what was originally a four-person debate) represented “a good faith editorial choice of a privately-owned cable network to limit debate participants based on the status of their campaigns.”
UPDATE: Rachel Maddow has responded to this story. Her response, is full:
Every media outlet that hosts a debate has decisions to make about format and inclusion criteria, but there has never before been a situation like Fox is setting up on August 6th.
No one can fault Fox for assuming initially that a 10-candidate cutoff would be reasonable. That plan ceased to be reasonable, however, once 17 major candidates announced in the Republican party.
Fox’s promise to exclude as many as seven (or maybe even more) major candidates from their debate — effectively killing seven or more candidacies six months before the Iowa caucuses — is a qualitatively more radical disruption of the nominating process than anything we’ve seen previously.
It has also radically changed the strategic dynamics of the early nominating process. Republicans in early nominating states have good reason to be so furious about it, not to mention the candidates.
To pretend otherwise is to gloss over the single most interesting, unprecedented, and potentially determinative factor in the Republican race.